City of Bats

Number six(?) in an eight-part series. 

This is a compilation of the best eight entries from Prince’s recent No ArtPunk contest. Basically, you had to use published monsters, magic items, etc, with one unique allowance allowed in each category. Settle in, I’m reviewing one adventure at a time. Also, I admit that an orgy of women, wine, bread, circuses, and self-absorbed loathing kept me from reading Prince’s commentary earlier. So I’m going in to this blind. Let’s see what “winning” entries look like, shall we?

City Of Bats
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 4-6

This eighteen page adventure details two levels of a dungeon with about fifty rooms. Excellent maps, a delightful interactivity, and a casual depth to the encounters makes this one a great thing to pull out at the table.

This is the kind of adventure you hope to run across. Some person sitting in their basement cranking out rocking good adventures with no effort. That’s what this feels like. Like someone just sat down and said “I’m writing an adventure for tonight” and just cranked it out in a hour or so. I don’t know that it took an hour, but it feels that way. Not in a rushed way. But in a kind of naturalistic way. No pretension. Handwrought skills. Just gonna draw a map and then type out some keys.

The maps. The maps are GREAT! They are just two, one for the upper level “Cave of Mists” and then a second for the “City of Bats”, that the cave of mists acts as the Door to the Mythic Underworld for. Just a piece of graph paper and a pencil and some person cranking it out. It feels … right? It feels like there’s some room to breathe in here. I mean, it’s still just a couple of small maps, with sixteen rooms on the first level, but the interconnecting hallways, secrets, branching rooms and loops make it all feel right. Level two continues the themes, with rivers, statues, pools, rooms withing rooms. These are excellent maps that looks like someone just sat down and cranked it out in a few minutes … cranked out an excellent map, that is.

The dungeon keys are interesting.You get mossy floored caves, misty caves, bat guano and fluttering bats. Everything is going on swingingly. Keys are short and sweet, generally, with things like “A group of nine man-sized wooden sculptures depicting twisted half-man half-animal hybrids stand in a circle. The sculptures are coated in bat guano and other filth.” Ok, no problemo! I can get behind that! And then you reach the lizardmen. The first solid stake in the ground.

“Five Lizardmen stand guard in this cave. When first encountered they will be roasting skewered cave locusts over a small fire and gambling for jade beads. Light and noise coming down the tunnel will alert them, and one of their number will immediately go to warn the rest of the tribe at area 10.”

They are doing something in their room. Theres an interesting scene being painted for the DM in the a few words, but a few words that paint a great image. There’s a reaction … (and later an order of battle for the lizardmen.) The next room is their lair. “The cavern is illuminated by yellowish light cast by giant fireflies held in reed cages. It is home to a small tribe of Lizardmen who dwell in the side-caverns. The tribe’s warriors, clad in crude hides and smeared with black warpaint, will swarm out of their holes and attempt to encircle the party, baring their fangs and hitting their weapons on the stones.” Alright! Swarming out! Baring fangs! Hitting weapons! Primitive posturing! I can get behind that! That’s what fucking lizardmen do! And then, maybe, you meet the idol they call their god. The one that booms at you for tribute. And then, if pushed, gives up and is like “Hey, alright man, chill. Yeah yeah, I’m not an idol, I just pretend to be one cause it’s an easy life.” WTF?!?! It’s fucking magnificent. It doesn’t use the words I did, it makes sense in context. It’s brilliant.

And that’s what this adventure does. It just throws these simple little things at you. They seem simple. But they also seem RIGHT. They seem both classic and fresh all at the same time. It’s got a basic D&D flair to it. Not the kiddie D&D basic, but the OD&D basic, the kind of weird, brought to life, without being gonzo. The cave behind the waterfall, symbolically, again and again and again.

I could go on and on. Great treasure. Splashes of greatness there. A room with giant flies in it … big ones. And then a Chasme flies out. Fuck yeah man! Cause that’s how an encounter like that goes down! It’s all so very NATURAL. It FEELS right.

I do have a complaint. It’s in single column. If this were double column it would be less stressful on the eyes/cognition to scan. I know, I know, that’s the most trivial of things. But it’s also true. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run it. You absofckinglootly should run this. It’s awesome, in the same way as that first level of Darkness Beneath is awesome.

That’s two great adventures in this volumen, so far, making this the buy of the year at $10.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $10. Proceeds are going to the Autism Research Institute. A subtle dig?

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8 Responses to City of Bats

  1. Anonymous says:

    Correction: It’s 3 so far.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think this is his favorite

  3. Jonathan Becker says:

    If I remember correctly, this was my favorite of the batch. Really great maps, especially the lower (city) level…Prince of Nothing agreed with me that this particular necropolis was (slightly) better than Palace of Unquiet Repose.

  4. Stripe says:

    “I do have a complaint. It’s in single column. If this were double column it would be less stressful on the eyes/cognition to scan. I know, I know, that’s the most trivial of things. But it’s also true. ”

    Bryce, is single-column in statement/digest-sized (5.5″ x 8.5″) okay?

  5. Anonymous says:

    “That’s [three] great adventures in this volumen, so far, making this the buy of the year … “ Well done PrinceofNothing and contributing authors! Very well done!

  6. Shuffling Wombat says:

    My experience is that only top class authors can make good writing seem effortless. You could view the upper level, Cave of the Mists, as an homage to S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth; there is a clear (acknowledged) influence from C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan for the City of the Bats. But this is a delightful tribute, not a dull retread. Some lovely touches to improve encounters with standard creatures/traps: (i) trolls waiting underwater to surprise; (ii) the best use of a mimic (masquerading as an idol as Bryce notes above) I have seen in a module; (iii) the cliched poison needle trap takes a rest, instead you are confronted with a medusa head image, and slow petrification; (iv) a magic sword with bat-winged shaped crossguard. There are also riffs off Indiana Jones when swapping an idol with something of similar size to avoid a trap, and the Mummy with a flesh-eating beetle swarm. And there are some difficult to unlock mighty magics to potentially corrupt the PCs, a well as a trickle of magical healing water to encourage multiple visits.

    I actually like the easy to read text, with appropriate highlighting. To prepare this, I would annotate spare copies of the excellent maps, make a few notes, and would be good to go. Perhaps some talented but as yet unknown artist might want to do a few illustrations. And it ends in classic old school style with “This Ends the Expedition to the City of the Bats.”. Marvellous.

    Outstanding piece of work; write more!

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