By Olav Nygard, Johan Nordinge Cyclopean Games Blood & Bronze Level 1
Enter the Slave Pits, where the wretched are sent to perish. You have stepped away from the light of life-giving Shamash; your trespasses have forced the divine eye of the heavens to dismiss you into the shadows, for if you ever met his gaze again his flaming wrath would surely strike you down. But one day, maybe, you can win your freedom back: by hard work, by cunning or by blood in the Sun’s court.
This 48 page mesopotamia themed adventure features a dungeon with four levels and about 110 rooms. Think of it more as a small region or town and not a dungeon … but with dungeon-like elements. It might be groovy as a three-shot or so or someone looking for something different. Which is a weird way of me saying it’s interesting but a little unworkable?
We’re in some kind of mesopotamia land. You get Shamash and Akkadian references, but it also seems a little dark sunish outside with some ancient civ stuff also lurking around. Okey doke, got it? You’ve been chucked in to the slave pits. You live in a big central cave underground with the other slaves and get taken to work in a tunnel each morning by some guards. Who are the only people with any lights. Oh, also you’re wearing a collar that explodes when any sunlight touches it. Ok, intro is over … what do you do next?
I’m gonna have to jump around a bit for this review to make any sense. The adventure is described in four levels. The upper two are the main levels. This is where the big slave cave, tunnels out to the sunlight, guard posts, work sites and so on. Let’s call this a kind of “town.” And then, down below, are two more levels. This has a tomb in it and is more dungeon-like, at least in the way we think of traditional dungeons.
But, before the keys start, there are a coupe of pages of notes, including a How To Run This section. It suggests the adventure keys be used in four separate ways, along with some atmospheric notes and themes to go with each section. First, have the party get dumped in. Darkness, despair, exploding head slave collars, etc. Then introduce the slave camp. You finding your way in the “big city”, exploring the slave camp, being sent to work … and finding a light so you can explore the tunnels. Then you’re in the tunnels and exploring, like a more traditional dungeon, and looking for a way out. This is going to be a combination of something like “exploring the kings palace”, since there are guard posts around, and exploring a dungeon, since its dark, unknown, and does in fact have some dungeon levels and puzzles in it. Along the way, both in the slave camp and in the keys, you’ll find a decent number of puzzles (giant heads!) and NPC’s to treat with. And most of them are looking to play Let’s Make A Deal. In fact, the adventure might seem a little slower than most because of this. You both are and are not in a dungeon, and this is one of the better products that communicates that kind of vibe. (Although, I don’t think there are a lot of products that are, appropriately, going for that vibe.) You’ve got a kind of slower “town” pace, with talking to folk, with some Work Your SLave Shift stuff going on in between, while you plan and plot. For once, one of these “escape as prisoners” things really does have enough room to breathe and let the players grow and explore. Most of these sorts of things handle the escape in the very first room; it’s really just an excuse to strip the characters of their gear. But this puts them in an environment large enough, and complex enough, for them to plan and work their little schemes. Sneaking off to explore. Trying to get food and supplies. Making deals with unsavoury folk. And this is all great. If you think of this like a kind of “escape the slum” town adventure then you’ve got the right mindset. Kind of. I mean, you are still slaves.
Our room descriptions are decent, for the most part. Nothing great but solid enough to support the adventure at hand. Things like: “Empty. Damp walls gleaming with moisture. A rotten rope and some splintered logs on the stony and debris-covered floor hint at the original structure.”
There’s really quite a bit going on here and a lot of good encounters/situations to help support the basic premise of the play. The mesopotamia theme is gonna be rough to work in, and continue on with. It’s meant to be the first game, so, starting with nothing, in the slave pits, is not exactly a gimp. And, in fact, the degree of agency the players have over their characters situations is really quite interesting. A little more on guard bribes, or general slave uprisings, or the like might be in order, since it’s VERY light in this regard. But, if you see the players as loners and/or the general populace clearly not in to going all spartacus, then you’ve got a solid little adventure for continued play. Every resource found is a treasure … with real treasures being used to bribe people for more of the basics. And it does this all without going too far down the path of torture porn. Just enough to bring the setting home and makes those simple supplies worthwhile while not so much as to make it a grind or eye rolling.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The eighteen page preview shows you the intro sections, a few keys, and the very good map of level one. You should be able to infer things from there.