By Tom Holmgren OSE Level 1?
Once upon a time, there was a wonderful school of spellcraft and sorcery called Brewkessel. 62 years ago it vanished in a flash of red lightning, taking with it some of the best and brightest names in magic. All that was left behind was a deep, smoking hole. Was it the result of a spell gone wrong? Had the gods finally rained down judgement on their vile witchcraft? No one could say for sure. In fear of repeating Brewkessel’s unknown mistake, one by one the other schools locked their doors. Brewkessel reappeared 7 months ago.
This 66 digest page “zine” uses about 36 pages to describe about 31 rooms on the first level of Hogwarts castle. A fucked up Hogwarts castle. It’s got a consistent vibe (fucked up Hogwarts) and does a relatively good job of supporting the DM, supplementing its excellent formatting and interactivity. Descriptions could use some work, but, hey, whatever. It’s pretty good.
This mania for calling everything a zine needs to end. It’s a fucking module. Was G1, G2, and G3 three individual zines? No? They were modules? Fuck yes they were. And this is level one of a megadungeon, along with some supporting information on the village outside of hogwarts. The village inn, a bit on the outside grounds, the witch who guards the entrance and so forth. It being a digest, about one to two rooms are on each page, usually along with a nice little minimap showing their relation to each other.
Ok, so, fucked up Hogwarts. That’s what you need to know. That, more than anything else, is going to be the deciding factor if you want this adventure. The tone. The party WILL recognize aspects of Hogwarts. Four houses. The great hall. Rowing across the lake perhaps. Paintings that talk. The owlery. But then, it’s going to be slightly twisted. A kind of Bioshock/City of Rapture version of Hogwarts. It is still KIND of functioning as a home for some powerful wizards & witches, but … things are a little rough inside and the occupants and magics a bit corrupted.
You see, the castle was transported to Yuggoth and a lot of people got brain parasites. They settled on the land, learned to adapt, and had a couple of coup’s. Then someone brought the castle back. So, you’ve survived on an alien planet for 65 years, being a bit flexible to survive. That kind of warped. It comes off a lot, in many ways, like Castle Xyntillian, but with a Hogwarts vibe. Both, kind of functioning as their intended purpose … but both corrupted and having a very dangerous disposition. If you want that vibe then this adventure, or at least this level of this adventure, is for you.
Before reaching the castle keys we get a short rumor table and a few businesses in Hogsmead. Those are focused, all three on one page, with the content tending to less is more. A line about the proprietor and maybe what the party can get there. It’s focused on supporting the party through the dungeon rather some kind of a “day in the life of a rustic village” nonsense that all too frequently appears in print. We get a short little “by land or by lake” to the castle, along with wanderers, and a few rival adventuring parties. A wandering monster table for the castle with a paragraph or so for each entry, describing the monster (if there is one) and giving a little push to run the encounter in an interesting way. Exactly what it should be.
And then we reach RIGHT outside the castle. The map depicts a greenhouse, or, at least, the former site of one. And the whomping willow and the forbidden forest, all of which get no description at all. (Perhaps in a future volume?) What we do get, though, are the groundskeepers. When the castle returned a former student and now high level witch showed up to run the entrance, charging people to get in/out, having contracts to sign and casting spells for fee. She’s supported by a large group of animal headed mercenaries … with a variety of possibilities, from mundane to FUCKED UP, as to why they have animal heads and why they support the witch. This harkens back to the old days of groups of thieves hitting the party on the way to/from the dungeon, taking some loot … serving the purpose that the gate guards and tax collectors sometimes do. It’s a nice touch and she adds a lot to the vibe as well as providing some practicalities like Remove Disease and Identify, as well as some mini-quests like finding keys, etc. I should note that there are also a few hooks provided, with one of my favorite being “whenever your blood is spilled, it runs uphill toward the castle”, with a close second being a hideous oracle predicting your death in the castle. Uh, duh, of course I want to go there then!
Formatting emulates the Necrotic Gnome style of conveying information with bullets, with strategic bolding and cross-references. It’s clean and easy to scan.
Interactivity is great, with curses, boones, banes, potential allies and neutral parties scattered everywhere. Just about every room has some kind of thing going on, which, while not exactly true, even the “empty” rooms feel like you’re someplace worth looking in to. But, how about that painting with a vampire on it. She’d dearly like for you to find the key to the collar she wears … she’s so … thirsty. And in return she feeds you information, helps as much s a painting can … and giving her the key has “consequences for other paintings on this level.” That’s enough detail for the DM to riff off of without needing to go in to exacerbating detail.
Owlgirl lives in the rookery, once an own, now a girl/owl hybrid. ALl she knows is the rookery, but will grow in to someone else if shes exposed to the wide world beyond … which she is curious about. A classic trope, and combined with the owlery and the owls, a perfect thing for the party to take advantage of. And take advantage they will need. The letter room, near the owlery, has an 8HD mail golem in it. There is no issue here with finding encounters beyond that of the party. They abound. Including the high level staff, who, at least on this level, mostly want to be left to their own devices. Their own Tallulah Bankhead hedonistic devices.
I could take exception with some the language used to create an evocative environment. Certainly the mini-maps, in an iso-metric view, help, and the bulleted items do a decent job. But the overall nature of the room is, I think, lost a bit. The carpentry shop tells us about scattered rusty woodworking tools, unpleasantly siggy wooden planks and a crude carving. Thats a little lifeless, noting the individual elements present in the room but not the overall vibe of the room, proper. Most of the rooms fall in to this syndrome. A few, though, do not, like room two, the courtyard, which describes overgrown grass, dead in patches with three dead black wood trees spotted with red growths … and a three tier fountain of white stone in the middle, with flowing water, something painted on it, crudely. That’s two bullets, the foliage and fountain, that when taken together in a description provide a good overall feeling of the room. That is missing from most of the entries. This is one of the limits of the Necrotic format, the difficulty in providing an overall feeling. Or, perhaps, the need to ensure that the individual elements add up to that overall feeling.
Beyond this, you get the usual issues with a single level of megadungeon. What are the connections? How does everything fit together? What do people know about things deeper in? If you are going to accept a level by level design then you must also accept the issues with this. And also, that future levels may be slow, or never, show up
Still, this is a very worthwhile addition to a game. It’s the best Hogwarts I’ve seen. It captures the spirit of Hogwarts, and warped nature turning it in to an adventuring locale … without it being too cutesy or bizarre for the sake of bizarre. It’s a fine line to walk and the designer does a good job. I hope to see more entries.
This is $9 at itch. The product page has a good preview of the room page layout and so on, and how the designers on personal art compliments the vibe. Nice job.