Gilded Dream of the Incandescent Queen

Gilded Dream of the Incandescent Queen
Footprints #25
HDA Terrible Sorcery
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 3-6

Nearing the end of her life, she explored every option to extend her years: magic mirrors, lichdom, medicine, even Infernal bargains. Nothing was satisfactory. Finally, she built the sanctum and attempted to transcend mortality itself. It didn’t work out.

This is one of the adventures in Footprints issue #25. And, as it turns out, was also at least partially developed in a contest on my Adventure Design forum. Which I didn’t participate in or even realize was going on until two years after it ended. My bad …

This 21 page adventure describes a two-ish level “castle” in the sky with about forty rooms in it. It’s doing everything right … and yet leaves me nonplussed. Maybe the Dwarf Temple problem.

One of the opening sentences to this is “Many NPCs in the adventure have useful knowledge about local dangers – parties who don’t gather information and put the pieces together might make a fatal mistake! Thus is the game played.” So, surprise surprise surprise, Terribly Sorcery gets it. 

So, queen lady tried to become immortal by building a stairway to heaven, literally, from her cloud castle. It worked kind of like one would expect. Now the vil part of her broods in her throne room. Oh, also, rumors say the castle has something that can turn base metals in to gold. Let’s take a look, shall wel?

We’ve got a mostly functioning caste here. There are cloud butlers and marble courtesans running around. And some rotting corpses. And some ‘angels’ “the gilded ones” who’ve descended from on high having come DOWN the staircase. And a decent number of other weirdos to be found in the cells and dungeons and palace proper. The major groups get a little run down of some basic personality and desires – which is good for the more generic ones like the butlers, angels and courtesans. Our angels? “Culturally insensitive tourists with holy

Powers.” Noice! And the remains of the queen in her throne rooms? She wants “To increase the misery in the world, even her own. To be praised, flattered and obeyed. To live forever. To be beautiful again.” Nice stuff there. Realistic and runnable as an NPC. This is all supplement by a decent, if somewhat layout-expansive, wandering monster table good enough to add sufficient variety to the DMs imagination during play.This is how you add colour, people.

Treasure, both mundane and magical, is well described, generally, and a mix of unique items and book items. The map is …decent for the limitations given: the base outline is a triangle and shows us some features, like light and such. (And it’s worth noting that some rooms are bigger on in the inside … like the 2 mile diameter ocean inside of one rooms, complete with multiple islands. That’s a nice addition.) I might have found that the “always on” dungeon dressing, marble, etc, would be better served as a note on the map page rather than only in the text. I like general features somewhere I can reference them quickly.

Writing is relatively decent here. If, maybe, a little .. static? Low energy? “11 worthless remains are climbing up the pillars to catch and eat a group of 19 sunlight moths resting on the ceiling.” If I look at that description and I really THINK about it then it could be pretty cool. It’s certainly better than the vast majority of descriptions written in rooms in adventures. They are doing something, both crawling up the pillars AND trying to eat something, so, great job! Maybe a few better adjective/adverb choices would have given it a little more energy in the imagination. Likewise, let’s look at this room description: “CHAPEL – Hung with white and crimson banners, lit by golden candelabras. On a marble altar rests a glowing red cross which bleeds constantly, covering the altar and overflowing into a floor drain.” Again, if I really think about this then it seems pretty nifty. And it is ABSOLUTELY better than most of the garbage I run across. (This is what praise from me looks like. Its not the best food ive ever eaten in my life. Why is that the case?) But, again, it seems a little … ossified? Again, I think some better adjective and adverb choices. And, again, I will point out that I think this is the hardest part of adventure writing. Making a description really jump off the page and live in the imagination of the DM, immediately, is hard. 

Certainly, we get a kind of mythic element to the adventure. There’s the golden stairway to heaven, which is described well and FEELS like what it’s meant to be: a major major location. A mythic place. And, likewise, the dungeons below have some shit equal to the stairs. Mythic things and rooms that you’re like “Damn. Yup. That’s what some soul scales are, where they live, and who guards them!” The ability to create, and communicate, the truly MYTHIC in quite well done. The designer understands the need to do this in an adventure and has the ability to do it.

The environment is a little austere, with marble hallways and the like. I wondering if my lack of enthusiasm here is because of that. There’s a tendency to make dwarf temples, and indeed anything dwarf, somewhat austere. And I think it’s quite difficult to communicate the grandeur of the austere in the written word. Magnificent desolation, and the like ot the southwest landscapes … how do you do that? It does seema lot simpler to appeal to those baser dark and dripping caverns with streams of blood and gore. Given the austerity of the place. “The hallways are polished white and grey marble, trimmed with gold and silver highlights. Furniture and artwork is clean and well-cared for. Soft lighting permeates the sanctum, like being indoors on an overcast day.” Maybe? I don’t know. It’s got a decent amount of interactivity. Mythic things. Good wanderers and decent map for its size. The rooms are decently written, and yet I’m not very excited here. Which is why I want to turn to the austerity excuse. 

I think this is worth checking out, especially since Footprints is free. I’m just not sure this every makes it to my table? 

Free at Dragonsfoot at:

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21 Responses to Gilded Dream of the Incandescent Queen

  1. squeen says:

    Congrats TS! Nice to see this work getting some exposure.

  2. hot damn! Bryce how did this come across your desk, did someone recommend it or what?

  3. Lance Toth says:

    RE: austerity
    My best guess (haven’t read it) is the place is described in warm, safe, positive tones, while adventure locations usually are (and should be IMHO) fundamentally alien and wrong. It might be missing that Biblically Accurate Angels “FEAR NOT” energy.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m happy Bryce is back reading actually good things again. Maybe he’ll read NAP 2 sometimes.

    • Killian says:

      Not sure a lot of the NAP2 entries will rate highly, with most of them lacking any significant attention to layout and information presentation, despite being solid adventures. And most of them are AD&D, so that knocks them down 1 rating immediately in Bryce’s framework. If DCO was written for 1e, it’d probably only get a ‘no regerts’.

      • Melan says:

        Good morning, Bryce your honour
        The crown will plainly show the author
        Who now stands before you
        Was caught red-handed, showing paragraphs —
        Showing paragraphs of an almost literate nature
        This will not do!
        Call Gavin Norman!

      • Anonymous says:

        The South America one and Snow Dwarves and The Seven Wights, off the top of my head, presented shit in an easy to understand way. The Dyson-mapped one with the ichor vine, too, was straightforward. I can’t recall the rest off the top of my head (sorry NAPsters!)

        • Prince says:

          Its ironic but Snow Dwarves has some of the best layout and useability that I have seen in years lol.

          • Giant Goose says:

            It really had to with how ballz-to-the-wall it went. Do you think it’s the exemplar for how to write an order of battle or maybe the orcs in wg4, bc the Snow Dwarves constitute the “whole thing”?

          • Prince says:

            It will have to be a tossup between Skalbak and the norkers in WG4. The point is that an actual strategy is being employed. The inhabitants are not mindlessly waiting in one place, they have a strategy, a fallback plan in case it fails, there’s some traps within that strategy etc.

  5. Reason says:

    Conveying the austerity of marble sky palace?

    I’d go to things like;

    echoing footsteps (uses senses, hints at grand space and loneliness);

    cold/cool marble (uses senses, hints at unfriendly, unlife);

    things breaking/clattering against the marble in combat or dropped when climbing wtc (uses senses, reminds of hard uncaring, potential to harm) or the opposite, cracking the marble (ruin, irrevocable)

    lights reflecting off distant marble (uses senses, reminds players of selves, that others can see them, vulnerability of crossing large spaces).

    All that can make it seem almost hostile. It’s not the black, dank, slick dungeon where you can hide it’s almost a bright, white, too clean sci fi type environment where you are exposed and nothing is natural/supportive of life..

  6. Anonymous says:

    More Footprints please!

    And NOD mag whilst we are at it

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