By Gus L. Kill Jester Errant/OSR Level 1
The Goose King squats in his great longhouse among verdant fields won by his ancestors. He feasts nightly on the most succulent turf, rich foreign wines, and the finest lettuces. In the swampy dark outside, his kingdom crumbles and suffers. The great gander of the Claymarshes—despoiler, land-devourer, sword-blessed terror bird, maimer of champions, curse of the wrathful stars—has come again. The Ganshoggr’s scream rips the night in contemptuous accusation, sounding the Goose King’s failure — the dawn of an age of ruin.
This fourteen page adventure details a small pointcrawl with a ten room dungeon at the end … which are all sidelines to the main event: a Dragon to kill at level one. The density is high, the language colorful, both to an extent that is almost too much.
There’s a lot to unpack here. First, this is for Errant. It’s some D&D-mine system. Rules light, the marketing blurbs are perfectly written to appeal, they hit every point of interest to make you want to take a look. Until I got to “244 pages.” Uh, no. Seriously, the marketing of this D&D-mine is perfectly designed to appeal to me. Except for the page count. I mean, even Gus wrote this adventure for it, and Gus is one of the few people to get the “Not a Complete Fucking Idiot” Byrce award. But, then, all of the pull quotes are from things that seem suspiciously new school/art punk … which is fine except for that they come with the baggage of never having seen anything ever that they didn’t fawn over. Some dude at work was raving about Applebees. Exceptional, wonderful, etc. I asked him to rate it on a scale of ten and he said a three. Uh huh. Righto, I now dismiss out of hand everything dude says. But, also, Gus wrote something for this and he’s NOT an idiot.
First things first, this is for a campaign world, not yet published (and, evidently, a LONG way off from being published) in which the world is full of bird people. Not animal people, I dont think, so this isn’t isn’t some furry sex fantasy thing. But, also, that’s fairly idiosyncratic AND if the published game world is a long way off why would you publish this so far in advance? I say that with the full knowledge that I don’t understand business.
So, theres this goose kingdom. A kind of viking/norse setting with longhouses and all that jazz. And there’s this grendel running around now causing problems. The goose offers rewards to anyone who goes out and kills it. So, your level one’s are going out to fight what is essentially a dragon. In the form of a giant goose.
Yes, thank you, I am fully cognizant of what I am writing. But you gotta hang in there. What we have here is something so very interesting. It’s a very well-realized rendition of that thing I love so much: a folk tale. You’ve got some level one fuckwits and a herculean task. Much in the way of Gone Fishin, but with a darker tone. The dragon in question, errr, giant goose (gander? whatever) is a mythic creature. Wearing nine crows of kings. Removing them weaken him. And, he’ll bargain for them also. The ringing of bells damages him … with the side encounters in the pointcrawl featuring a decent few of them and people who guard them. He leaves his lair to rampage … letting the party sneak in behind him. An honorable dragon, you can surrender and it accepts personal duels. This is Smaug, with a bird telling you where to shoot that black arrow.
Other parts, here, follow in that same vein. A farmhouse to take respite in, the family inside feeding you and gossiping about the Ganshoggr. The next morning it is a ramshackle mess. The food either being a blessing or curse, depending on what you did. That, alone, is a classic. But, if you confront them that night then throw off their disguises and transform in to three mighty champions … missing the arms and legs that went in to the stew they served you. They boldly announce their names … former knightly champions now but thralls to the Ganshoggr … and loathing it, they work against him how they can. Come one now, that’s so dripping with classicism that not even the star wars fanboys can ignore it. And the adventure does this everywhere. It’s quite strong.
Complimenting this is an indoor/outdoor vibe of the map. There are several areas outside the main dungeon, essentially attached to it. That fit in well, and supplement the mythic nature. This place is DIFFERENT, the vibe tells you. Not ruins, but actual locales, it integrates well in a way that I don’t know I’ve ever seen before.
The interactivity is great, complimenting the folk lore themes by not having everything be combat. People to talk to, trick, and, yes, stab if need be. But brave Little Tailoring the thing will probably work out better for you.
The writing is great. In the fest hall of the goose king, at the start, we get “While the Goskarls sneer and bluster as a matter of pride, most of the court is amused and delighted to chat with the brave and common fools risking their lives on a mythic Journey”. That sets a mood that any DM should be able to instantly run well. Or, more traditionally, how about “Wide stairs open to a pair of low, candle-lit, stone galleries that reek of curdled wounds and stale sweat. Shuffling figures, their shadows huge on the peeling white plastered walls, crouch at the mouths of various niches” Wide stairs. Low galleries. Candle-lit. Reeking. Figures that SHUFFLE. The use of adjectives and adverbs here is excellent. It really paints the picture that I wish most adventures would. And none of these are isolated examples, it hits over and over and over again, as we’ve all come to expect from Gus.
I think the only way this is really lacking is in the journey to the Ganshoggrs lair. The devastation is a little lacking. I don’t know what I expect to see here. Refugees Destroyed lands? Trees with bodies in them? There are a few encounters on the way, but they tend to not be of this variety; they are mre mythic/folk, like a troll under a bridge. I think perhaps some lead in, to transition from the feast hall to the “lower” mythic encounters may have been in order to set the mood.
Also, the text is getting close to the line of being difficult to use. The formatting is a brief intro with a few words bolded and then some text expanding on those bolded words, with appropriate cross-references in place. I think, though, that the font and size are somehow playing a part in things being a little less straight forward than they might otherwise be. It is dense with baroque vocabulary and phrasings … didn’t I just read something about a FInnegans Wake bookclub finally finishing the book after 22 years? This is some wonderful text:” : Anesthetized by death, the Thralls of the Ganshoggr are the pale remnants of warriors slain by the beast. Six of them are missing their heads, the rest an arm or leg; all have foul, infected wounds” It’s not over the line, but its getting close.
I don’t know, I think, for those purists, you can swap out the goose references on the fly and run this like you would anything else. It’s a dragon. And instead of a possibility of a black swan transformation of the villain we get the possibility of a black prince ruling the land. It would be rather trivial.
This is free at DriveThru. You’re a fool not to pick it up.