By Nickolas Zachary Brown Five Cataclysms OSR Levels: Mid to High?
This place sits on the border between the mundane world and the world of machines. It is a horrendous mishmash of metal mechanical components, contorted and broken and pressed to form this recognizable-but-alien cavern reeking of oil. This is a place where machine life is the norm, and biological meatbags are unwelcome, prone to a toxic demise. Many creatures found here are parodies of biological life, while yet others have discarded all such trappings for a pure mechanical state. Terrible screeches and clanking and whirring of horrible entities echo through these cavernous chambers. In these twisting halls of metal, there are treasures to be plundered, for where metal abounds, there’s sure to be gold.
This 57 page adventure presents a dungeon sub-level for the Descent into Madness, machine themed, with around 130 rooms(!) It recreates the bizarro vibe of a megadungeon sub-level perfectly. I wish there were more of this in my life.
First off, the keys on this thing start on page seven and run till the end. Absofuckinglutly! Not counting the cover, there are two pages of bs in this: the “how to read a monster stat block” and an overview/pretexts for visiting page. What’s that? You wanted to buy a dungeon adventure, not a belly itcher? Well congratulations, this fucking thing is a dungeon. The designer is NOT fucking around. The keys start almost immediately, after a robust wanderers table. WHo are doing things. What sorts of things? Well, three busty steel crustations challenge the party to a dance off, by pointing at them with a claw and then doing a little dance. If you win, you get a loyal metal-crab follower. Uh, ok. How about s party of robots, cosplaying as adventurers? Including healer and torchbearer, all dressed up?
Oh, I’m sorry Mr Hoity Toity stick-up-your-ass D&D player, is that too farcical for you? First, maybe go play Harn. Second, I cherry picked a couple of examples. This is not a joke adventure, or weird for the sake of being weird. The weirdness here is that of the megadungeon sub-level, which has, I think, always been allowed a little room for farce. Mostly, this is a pretty normal dungeon level, albeit machine themed, with a little farce tossed in. Anyone who has spent a lot of hours writing knows how things can get a little crazy sometimes, in your head, and sometimes that translates to the page. That’s what’s going on here.
Mostly, though, this is a metal and oil sublevel. With a decent number of fleshy folks hanging out. And by flesh folks I mean a wizard in a gemstone, all magic jar style. And a level 20 wizard with a sawed off shotgun. And a whole host of others gathered round for good time.
There’s a little robo-town, with mostly friendly robots in it. And, a carousing table. A CUSTOM carousing failure table. Something that I’m convinced, now, having seen it in this adventure, needs to be in every adventure with a decently weird town. You ate some rusty gears. They were probably soaked in buffalo sauce. Ill for a couple of days. I love this. It really brings tha added flavour of the site.
And, that’s what you’re after, right? An adventure that really leans in to the flavour of a site? That makes it come alive? That makes you feel it? And this one kind of does that. The encounters are all delightfull. The initial descriptions terse and, while not award winning, decent enough. Generally. I could do with fewer “appears to be “ and “you see”, ut, they ARE few and far between. Each entry gets a line or two. A few words will be bolded in it and there will bebolded section headings under that to detail those things. Effective enough. The descriptions, proper, are ok. “Metal crabs clamber over the floors and the walls, tending to their little eggs in little pools in craters throughout the room. The corpse of some metallic creature, likely a fish, sits in the middle of the room. Something strange is attached to its head, tube shaped with a crystal tip.” So, ok. Not great, but ok. I do think it falls down in “general vibes.” Like a lot of adventures it has a section up front that says something like “walls are made of metal, full of studs and rivits, with the smell of oil and dripping” or something similar. Meh. I don’t think hat really ends up working, room after room, to convey hte vibe. I’m not mad at it, but I don’t think it helps much either. A stronger room description, or putting things on the map page, would be in order, I think. Or in the margins? SOmething to help bring the window dressing more forward.
I’m a fan of this. Interactivity is solid. Things to stab, talk to, and interact with. Pools to be drained. Monoliths to fuck with. And situations to be puzzled out, hopefully to the parties advantage. “Rhudahn – An armored angry entity of fire, kept suppressed in a nitrogen prison.” Hope you play that one right, Mr Party. Or, how about “In the center of this triangular room is a red- metal altar, covered in all sorts of barbs and hooks. Atop it is a bloody-red orb, an indentation within suited for a hand to lay upon. Hanging from the walls are more hooks, barbs, spikes, and other instruments of flagellation.” Who wants to fuck with that thing? (Me, I do. I’m DYING to!)
This really conjures the charm of old school D&D. Deadly, interesting. Varied. A little weird. This is what D&D is made of. Sure, it could be a lot more polished. But, also, that content is GOLD.
This is $5 at DriveThru. Alas, the preview is broken 🙁