By John Battle Self Published OSR Level ? - 7, maybe? High, that's for sure.
A crumbling tower hides on the Sunbroke Sea. The last relic of the second sun in our world. Sail out on the full moon and reflect its light with a golden mirror. Follow the trail to its end and enter the Sun King’s Palace.
This 192 page digest adventure contains … the Sun Kings palace with about ninety four rooms. Talking, stabbing, and fetch quests abound in this ethereal-like location. Perfect for those of you looking to replace any darker tinted maze adventures. It is, I think, the longer ArtPunk adventure that has been missing.
Well, that intro certainly describes the entrance to the mythic underworld, doesn’t it? And that’s what we’ve got here: a mythic locale. This successfully brings that vibe of etherealness, of unrealness and slight detachment that gives something an otherworldly quality. That, and the mad, aloof, and detached NPC’s. Not since Blue Medusa has there been something like this.
So, we’ve got these biomechanical giant thingies. Think of the greek titans. The Sun and the Moon build a palace. They ignore eclipse (who doesn’t really appear in this adventure) who gets pissy and sets The Abyss on the place. The palace sinks in to darkness, there’s a coup inside, people go mad, blah blah blah. You can bring the place back though and rise it from the abyss. Get it? Eclipse. Sink in to darkness. Rise again. Sure. But it’s well done and really just a pretext. You travel through the place, through different zones (yeah!) and slowly accumulate “stain”, which causes you to mark shit off your character sheet. IE: you become like the palace folks; a one dimensional person, figuratively. You can remove stain. And/or remove it from people in the palace. In one room an angel has risen from the abyss, picking petals from a rose playing Love Me Not. “What make you guilty? Tell me your sins.” And no more stain. (And, let us not read too much in to my use of that example, in terms of pretension. It is, by far, the most pretentious of the things in th e adventure, and thus unfair that i use it without saying so. Also, it’s a fucking angel, what do you expect from it?)
It’s a single level map, with zones. At ninety-ish pages I’d not call it a megadungeon, but, perhaps it is by the typical five room extravaganzas that abound today. Layout of both the map and text is straightforward. Nothing really special on the map, but very serviceable. Book layout uses cross-references for monster stats with creature bolding and a little “what you see” when looking through doorways in to the next room. Not the best for creature reactions, but nicely done for a place with a lot of open doors in it.
But, let’s talk encounters. And, more specifically, encounter descriptions, something this adventure does fairly well. I’ve written quite a bit that the encounter text should be on the terse side, for scanning purposes, and yet be evocative and interesting. Here’s that angel room: “Circular and made of star-speckled obsidian, floored with dancing daisies. A stone well in the center leads out into the Abyss.” Two sentences. 21 words. The image comes to mind immediately. And note the nons-standard word usage. FLOORED with DANCING daisies. That’s quite good. There’s another two sentences with the angel in it, picking petals, and covering the “looking for worship and allows those who do so to give up their stain. “What makes you guilty? Tell me your sins.” We’ve got a terse description that’s easy to scan with good usage of line breaks and bolding. We’ve got a great description that jab the room vibe in to your brain to expand upon. And we’ve got an encounter with something going on, something for the party to interact with. The writing is focusing on setting the scene and some interaction, not a static laundry list of room contents. The room right before this is Mothers Garden: “An open garden bleeding into the abyss. Graves of various sizes dot the field. Rusted weapons stabbed in the ground, and molding banners blooming with moon rot.” The garden BLEEDS in to the abyss. Rusted weapons STAB in to the ground. Banners are MOLDED and BLOOMING. AGonoize over your word choice and feel free to twist the language to your own needs and wants; it is yours to command to bring an evocative scene to light in the DMs mind.
The adventure does this over and over ad over again. Various areas of the dungeon, the zones get a little description up front, to help portray the vibe, the window dressing in which the various rooms take place. I could quibble; these deserve to be on the zone mini-maps so they are always in front of the DM.
Magic items, and the creatures are unique. A spear that extends until it reaches something solid, sister of the unmovable rod … which are two parts of a great artifact. Of course; that makes perfect sense. This is much the opposite of the NoArtpunk contest (which, the second of which, is quite good; I’m only about halfway through looking at them and they are running to a very high quality. I encourage you to check them out!)
And yet …
There are a couple of things wrong here, or, at least not good enough to make me overly excited about this. First, the encounters to tend to the combat or talking. There is an occasional fetch quest, much of it of the “get the red key to open the red door” variety. Interactivity, beyond the talk and combat pillars, is somewhat limited. As such the exploration environment is somewhat limited. In addition the situation within the palace is somewhat static and/or localized. The encounters in the various rooms feel somewhat disconnected to each other. You don’t get the coup vibe, or a dynamic vibe from the overall effect of the dungeon. It’s not of the self-contained set-piece variety, but, rather, that the encounters seem somewhat disinterested in their own fates, beyond the room proper. I wouldn’t want to be mistaken that this is too much of a statement, but rather the tendency is in that direction, by a great deal. Thus the overall effect of the palace is that the encounter in one room is not really connected to the one in the next, in terms of the overall dungeon.
This is not a terrible adventure. In fact, its fine, especially if you’re doing something like a Polaris/Though are but a warrior vibe. The melancholy of the palace comes through great.
This is $10 at DriveThru.The preview is 21 pages and you get to see lots of the rooms, so, great preview.
Worth noting is that the adventure is also free on the author’s Itch, but it’s in a browser-based game engine called Trine, which rolls the random encounters for you as you navigate from room to room. It’s actually quite nice.
That is pretty cool. At the same time, I wonder if that partially explains Bryce’s objection to the encounters feeling static and disconnected, having been written originally for computer software.
Hallelujah! Streak of negative reviews stops shy of number 10.
Perhaps the trick is to latch onto an idea with some depth to it, and then the supporting environment flows from that (after a bunch of donkey work). If sounds like the author tapped into a good motif.