The Count, the Castle, & the Curse

By R.B. Bo
Deficient Games
Levels 1-3

An invitation—by a Count of a name you’ve never heard. From a Castle in a land unknown around these parts. And a Curse which plagues him, pleading for each of your aid—by name—in exchange for an offer too tempting to ignore.   By next morning a horse-drawn carriage awaited each of you. The dark horses stood silent, their black eyes seeing everything and nothing. The sharp-collared driver shifted on his bench, mumbling to himself. You climbed in anyway. The carriage lurched forward the moment you clicked the door shut.

This 42 page adventure is a castle with about 25 rooms; a respun Castle Ravenloft, the original. It’s got good descriptions and an interesting pre-1e take on encounter/interactivity. But, you’ve got to deal with some pretension to run it. And I, the Padishah Emperor of pretension, am also allergic to it.

This adventure is a respun Ravenloft. We’ve got a castle, a fortune teller, a sun sword, mothers icon and tome, beating heart, and dude McDuderson running around having encounters with the party before he big bads them at midnight. It is fairly remarkable in that it has managed to do what we all wish but almost never succeeds: updating something to modern formatting/sensibilities. And I mean that in a positive way. The number of times I’ve typed something like “this needs a heavy edit or rework”, particularly with Dungeon mag, gives way to dreams of doing this. Some have tried, almost always failing miserably. This designer mostly succeeds. It’s like they did a D&D-Mine but left out all (most?) of the shitty new rules ideas that everyone shoves in to theirs. 

The map. We get a side view of the castle with connecting hallways and rooms with page numbers next to them. But, also, I suspect you will never use the map. At the end of each room entry is a little note on room exits, which I usually loathe. It describes the way to the next room. Thus it is kind of point-crawly. But, also, it gives you that “what you hear/see/etc in the next room” thing that a lot of adventures are missing. There’s not keying, or, perhaps rather, the keying is the page number of the room, which is given the in the exit information. It’s manages to take two things I tend to gripe about, the lack of keys and exit information, and turn them around to instead have them provide value in running the adventure. That’s interesting. Mini maps are included, but not really needed. 

The room descriptions here are also quite interesting. The designer has a penchant for those sorts of terse and evocative descriptions that I think both elevate an adventure and make it easier to run. “You wake to sloshing water and clinking chains. Smells of decay & stagnant water. Darkness surrounds you, save for a single candlelight floating between your broken cells.  Dangling feet above water from a single fetter” We’ll allow the use “You” here since it’s the “you wake up” first description form the railroad hook. Another is “A large underground chamber illuminated by wall mounted candles. The air is heavy and thick with dust.” And while I’m never really a fan of the word “large”, or other boring descriptor words, it IS working hard to create a vibe for the room. Which is what a good initial room description should be doing. And, I mentioned before the exit information, like “to the left faint echoes of screams and the sharp crack of bullwhips.” That’s what you want. The interactivity here is also fairly interesting. You do have some fights. And there is a series of encounters with the more memorable people int he castle. Basically, each time you meet them (thanks to the wandering table) they do something more interesting than the last time, thanks to a provided table unique to each one. And yet this is not the interactivity that makes the adventure interesting. It’s got this weird mashup of styles … something like OD&D meets a video game encounter, maybe is a good way to describe it? There’s this non-standard thing about it, but, also, can you see one of these being a really good encounter in, say, an old point and click title. And I mean both of those in a complimentary way. There’s just some weird shit going on in these rooms. There’s a room with a grandfather clock with a skeleton butler dude tinkering with it. If you offer to help he crawls behind the clock and shouts instructions to you … which the player must then repeat verbatim. Or, a baby being born in one room, that if you take it with you rapidly ages to maturity through the adventure. It’s weird shit. And, it generally has some impact on the adventure, not just weird for the sake of being weird. 

If you wanted to run Ravenloft in one four to six hour session then this is the thing for you. It’s a neat respin of it and good positive example of someone accomplishing an update of something older. 

I did mention the pretension, right? This starts with the following hook: “An invitation—by a never heard. From a around these parts. And a plagues him, pleading for each of your aid—by name—in exchange for an offer too tempting to ignore.” What is it? Never mentioned. You start after having been attacked. You’re in the hanging water room I quoted earlier. You have till midnight, then the count shows up to finish you off. So, better find some gear in the rooms and/or escape before then. *yawn* Also, no one kills you in this. If you die, but monster or trap, you get found later, still alive, huddling in a corner. The goal of the monsters/traps are to raise your stress levels for you final encounter with the count. Which WILL happen. You’re told to make sure the party understands that the count WILL be showing up at a set time, in real time. Like, say, you announce he’s showing up in six hours, real time. Uh huh. It’s got this concept of stress. When scary things happen you get more stress. That raises the AC of your enemies and makes saves, etc more difficult. You can lower the stress also. The adventure sprinkles trinkets throughout. When you find one the player gets to describe their relationship to the object from their past life. You find things like Moms Perfume, or your favorite bedtime story. I swear, I’m not making this up. 

But, whatever. Yanking all of that shit out and tossing in some treasure and getting rid of the time limit shit would turn this from its pretension kick to something interesting to run as a D*D adventure. More so than I6, I think. 

It’s Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $0. I’d download it just to see how they managed to pull this off, at that price.–the-Curse?1892600

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3 Responses to The Count, the Castle, & the Curse

  1. Gnarley Bones says:

    Ravenloft, but at levels 1-3?

    I’ve run the original six or seven times. Say what you want, it’s always been a hit at the table. Having said that, however, the problem with vampires in any version of D&D begins and ends with clerics. By the time the party is level-appropriate to deal with vampires, the cleric’s turn ability makes quick work of it.

    A secondary issue exists that vampires aren’t *quite* as scary when they can be fireballed.

    This piece seems to deal with that issue by announcing the vampire is coming and allowing the party to get ready for his arrival. Interesting.

    • The Heretic says:

      Agreed, aimed at levels 1-3 seems odd, especially if this is a D20 adventure. Bryce’s description makes this seem almost like a funnel. The party ends up together in the jail(?) and must figure out how to get out of the castle?

      For the price this is worth checking out.

  2. oTTo says:

    Its nice to see more good Shadowdark adventures

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