By Nick Baran Breaker Press Games DCC Level 1 (or a funnel 0)
A blood-curdling scream rings out, traveling in the autumn air. A door slams. The sound of something breaking branches tears through the brush and is followed by several sharp, unnatural barks. Then, near silence as the wind kicks up. The only thing heard for the next few moments is the rustling of the wind and blowing leaves.
This twenty page adventure features a very small farm being raided by a few cultists. It’s short, and laid out in a way that makes interesting play a little hard to occur. It does have some interesting DCC combat effects, and a decent NPC.
There are only a few encounter locations in this one. A farm house with a couple of rooms, a barn, an outhouse, and the small courtyard in between the three buildings. Each location has a creature in it, and thus the space to adventure in is confined. This exposes a certain contention between straight up combat and interesting exploratory elements. The locations have some interesting things in them. A disemboweled goat, graffiti in blood on the barn door, a dead farmer in the house living room, mom hiding her kids in the outhouse. This is the typical sort of thing that players would like to investigate. Take a closer look at the goat, or the graffiti, or talk to the mom, and so on. A pause, or break in the action to investigate/interact. Yet, the adventure is more of a combat focused one. Mutant dogs in that courtyard are most likely going to be the first thing encountered, and certainly any attempt to look at the barn or outhouse will elicit their response. From there, how could you not draw in the cultist in the barn or in the house? Ending in some kind of big melee, with the investigation a kind of afterthought. “Hmmm, wonder who it was we just slaughtered?” So, rather than a build up you get this pitched battle kind of thing.
But the adventure isn’t written like that. It’s written, one assumes from the investigatory details, that the party would be looking at these things. Why else include them? (Ok, if the adventure is a part of a larger campaign them you learn some things about the big bad, not present, behind the things.) Yet, it leaves THIS adventure as little more than a pitched battle.
This is further … undermined? By the combat details of the cultists. There are some great details here. The one in the kitchen uses a cast iron pan to scoop embers from the fire in to someones face. The ones in the hayloft throw down crates on the party. But … is this how things will happen? Not in a pitched battle scene. And that leaves the DM in a quandary. Do they stay in place and ignore noises for these little tactics notes, or do you do the right thing and have them come out?
Read-aloud can be extensive, and in italics, with weird bolding to it that doesn’t really go anywhere and isn’t elaborated on. His combines with weird “As you enter the room” sorts of direction in the read-aloud, never a good thing. The maps are small and cramped, maybe ? of a digest sized page, with lots of little details on the map. And you know, I just LUUUUV squinting while running an adventure.
Mom, hiding in the outhouse, is in shock, but is a grim fighter to protect her kids. This is a good detail, and she could become a party follower. This is a great little thing and, just like the creature tactics, shows that the designer can bring at least a little spark to the adventure.
So, a short little encounter, that is mostly a fight. As a pause, or brief session, in the context of a larger game, I can see this working a bit. If this were just one encounter in a larger sanboxy/plot/regional setting then it could make sense. You’re learning about the villain to come and how evil they are. But, as a stand-alone adventure, or something to drop in to a game, its really laid out wrong. You need it to be a part of that larger context to work right. As a standalone product I don’t think it works. Shifting the format from the zine to make one of many in a larger adventure? Sure. Although you’ve still got the issues with read-aloud and irrelevant tactics. And at $7? Hmmm …. No.
This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is just a few pages and shows you nothing of the actual encounters, which is not a good thing at all. You do get to see the mom NPC, but, alas, that format isn’t really used for the of the adventure.
This has been episode I forget what eight was for, of the Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist penance.
BONUS FEATURE! – The Dwarven Glory
An early adventure from the VERY earliest days of published adventure (1977), Precis Intermedia puts out this reprint of a 34 page classic. There are maps with about seven rooms per map, with most of the maps being linear corridors with rooms hanging off of them.
The encounter text is longer than the minimalism of Vampire Queen, or even B2, but it’s not necessarily adding substantially more to the adventure. Not quite expanded minimalism, there’s more going on here than that, but closer to it than not. Generally the rooms get an environmental detail, like bones scattered on the floor or walls lined with picks and shovels. What follows then is a brief little encounter, generally, Goblins who might negotiate … unless dwarves are present, for example. We get the usal weirdness in older adventures, like an tavern in the dungeon run by a half–orc. It’s almost funhouse in its design, with encounters just thrown in, like an ogre who plays a lopsided chess game with the party. A typical room, although ont he short side, might be this one “Storeroom with 5 empty barrels and a small empty chest (fireball trap, 1-12 pts damage extending 3 feet in all directions).”
The section with some ogre brothers, a troll, and minotaur is perhaps the most interesting, in terms of non-linear play, although it must be said that a decent number of the intelligent creatures are not immediately hostile … refreshing.
I’m not sure this stands as anything other than curiosity for those interested in early days publications. Certainly, something like the T&T Bear adventures seem more playable. It’s just a tad too minimally expanded and random to make sense, although a few of the levels could certainly be nice as standalones. Hmmm, now I’m rethinkng this. It’ all over the place, with a good mix of mundane encounters and weird shit. Combined with the non-standard use of monsters and magic items … it does appeal to my sense of non-standard D&D.