Cloister of the Frog God

By Gabor Lux
First Hungarian d20 Society
Levels 4-6

The cloister has stood on a desolate ridge overlooking vast swamps since time immemorial. Dedicated to the great and terrible Tsathoggus, this edifice of evil was destroyed again and again through history, only to re-emerge from its slumber once the forces of Law grew lax and the terrible deeds of the frog-cultists became forgotten. Now a new order rises among the old walls, while older evils stir in stone grottoes and underground sanctuaries. Spies visit the settlements of the marshlands, and offerings make their way to the cloister where the monks hold their vigils as their ancestors have, guarding a nightmare that refuses to die.

This 42 page adventure presents an evil monestary with a couple of above ground areas and a three level dungeon, along with an overland through a swamp. Specificity, interactivity, and some brutal underground areas worthy of Tsathoggus himself. With eighty or so encounter areas, this thing gonna DELIVER on a difficult D&D romp.

Specificity. That’s the name of the game. When I talk about evocative descriptions and things that are sticky I am, I think, generally speaking about specificity. These are details that nail the vibe of someplace. That really deliver on imagery and allow the DM to then really grok the place and run wild with it. And this is something that this adventures delivers on, time and again.

A village/town is introduced. It lies on the edge of a miasmatic swamp. The locals laze about in their hammocks, smoking their bitter herbs from pipes, bats are nailed over doorways and cats are hung up on high poles. Dirty ragged and lean ne’er-do-wells. Or, perhaps my favorite line, a place worthy of neither trade nor conquest. Ouch! I fucking love a diseased hovel of a village. You wanna grow up and be like them, safe-ish, diseased and boring, a life of toil, misery and boredom? Or, you wanna go stick your head in that hole in the Dreadmarsh and see if we can find that gold rumored to be down there? Cats strung up on high poles. Dead bats nailed over doorways. Bitter herb from pipes in hammocks strung up. That’s how you paint a fucking picture. 

“That’s not enough for me, Bryce!” Well, ok fuckwit  How about a hook to go with that? You get one locale in town, the temple of Murtar. Five wrinkled old men in lots of rings and necklaces endlessly polish an idol sitting behind a ragged leather curtain; a naked obese human figure. They need the sacred oils to polish their idol, a tenant. Here’s some cash, the Cloister is rumoured to have some. Oh, and here’s the local tax seal to help you get it. Fuck yeah man! Tax seal! Oh, and a raft with supplies to navigate the swamp. But, also, TAX SEAL! The players should be DROOLING. And a hook that motivates the players is the best kind of hook. 

We raft our way through the swamp, taking in the local sights and hopefully avoiding most of the local vermin. In the swamp are a few folk to talk to. A wizard-lady, loosely allied with the Cloister. At least enough to know that if they get pissed off she’s first on their list so better suck up a bit. Also an old swamp hermit dude, straight outta Maine, who MIGHT show up at an opportune moment later if the party aren’t asshats. And, a couple of half orc villages. Some nice social commentary there, putting them even further on the outskirts of civilization … with lives that are in no way worse off, it seems, than the lazy fucks in town. But, also, we get two fine examples of using that fucking tax seal. In the first village the party must sit in judgment, as is their duty, on local disputes. “Stinkegg, a youth, has broken all of his neighbors clay jugs, but did so when both the sun and moon rested, and thus, no witness from the sky could see the deed. What is the judgment?” And so on. My favorite being a marriage, dowry, and bigamist, and … I don’t know what else. It’s a doozy of a case. Lots of fun and an example of heavy hangs the head. The second being realpolotik: the second village resists your authority unless you prove your might in the combat in the frog pit. That seal is only a symbol. And a symbol is only as good as the ass kicking it represents. You pay your taxes because of the coercion of force, with perhaps the bargain that if you do then there will be less force in the future. Anyway, great swamp encounters, with one or two that could prove quite deadly. In an instant if something goes wrong.

Let us imagine you are exploring a dungeon and encounter a room and are hit by a fear spell. Most, if not all of the party flee. Randomly. Thus impacted, they end up generally alone in other very deadly situations. This has been the story of my most memorable TPK’s, both in playing and DM’ing. But, imagine, you are a well organized group confronting obstacles… and then something goes WRONG. Can you still survive in that situation? And thus, our main dungeon …

The cloister, proper, as two building complexes, with a ruined one in between them, with dungeons beneath both. There are, I don’t know, eight entrances? From the two building complexes to trapsdoors in the ruins to cave entrances in the hillside it sits upon. This is a complex. The little map feels like a real place, with all of the complexities that has with various entrances. I once lived in a house with eighteen doors. EIGHTEEN. And that’s OUTSIDE doors. Life is weird. And this map reflects that complexity. 

So, it’s a church. An evil church, but still a church. Show up during the day and maybe pray or something. At night we’ve got a black mass or two going on. Makes sense. You’ve got like eight guards, four priests, sixteen zombies and an evil high priest to deal with. Doesn’t seem too bad. On the surface. Hopefully the parties alpha strike goes off well. Anyway the place is a working church, albeit in decline, and is stuffed with goodies to steal … a lot of which are going to require some raft management to get out because of their bulk and/or cumbersome nature. But then, underneath the cloister, comes the crypts and high temple areas. And man, you do NOT want to go messing about with those sealed off tombs. Especially not while the Abbot and his dudes are still running about. There is some shit in them that will FUCK. THE. PARTY. UP. I hope you nuked the main idol with some holy water to get rid of that unhallow spell surround the cloister. You’re gonna need all the help you can get.

People in the swamp to talk to, and in the cloister also. Traps to fuck you up. Shit to play with, including Ye Olde Statues. A running battle. Enough interactivity to choke a troop of horses. And writing that is terse: “Casks of sour wine stand in the recesses of this vaulted moldy cellar.”

This is exactly the kind of thing you want in your game, and to run. Sure, I can quibble about the large map, or small maps. And sometimes the formatting and editing could place a little more emphasis on scanning, and I prefer my reference material in easy to view places, but those would simply be icing on the cake. This is a great adventure.

The print version, with PDF, is $10 at the BigCartel storefront.

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12 Responses to Cloister of the Frog God

  1. Oorlof says:

    Sounds great! Does this standalone version differ much from the material published in Rappan Athuk? No dangling connections to other dungeon levels, I guess?

    • Melan says:

      Thanks for the review, Bryce! Appreciated.

      I can answer this one. The standalone version adds the entire wilderness section (which, granted, was already published in Echoes From Fomalhaut #04 as a standalone tournament module). It also underwent considerable editing to make the text more accessible in play, and presents the maps as a whole (my big regret in the RA edition was that they were chopped up into a myriad little pieces, obscuring the scope and layout of the cloister). But the dungeons are fairly close to what was there in the RA edition, so don’t expect something radically new.

      I will also note, finally, that this is a module with precisely the *correct* amount of giant frogs.

      • Oorlof says:

        Thanks Melan for clarifying; sounds like a great improvement then. I’ll wait a bit until I can get this as just a PDF on DriveThru, but it’s definitely going on the pile of things to force my players through!

  2. Jeff V says:

    My first thought was “Oh, I’ve already got this” but then it turned out that what I had was “Well of Frogs”.

    Then, after reading Melan’s comment, turns out I still pretty much have this since I have both Echoes #4 and Rappan Athuk. So I’d just be getting a better layout and a much better map. However, I’m a massive fan of maps so I’ll probably get it anyway.

    Is there a story behind how it ended up in Rappan Athuk? I couldn’t see anything in particular on the old Kickstarter page, although seems the “Temple of Tsathogga with a three level dungeon of its own” was in it from the start (i.e. not a stretch goal).

    • Melan says:

      There is, in fact, a story. The rooms for the cloister and the dungeons were originally written for Necromancer Games’ version of Tegel Manor, which I was in charge of. The original Tegel had a few dungeon levels below it that had great maps, but barely any keying beyond monster and treasure listings. It also had a fascinating wilderness map with no descriptions at all except a really cool and specific random encounter table. So I ended up running with the little bits and pieces I had, and made up a bunch of dungeon rooms, as well as two mini-dungeons (the Temple of Tsathoggus and the Abandoned Monastery), which we tested meticulously.

      The manuscript was finished, but the book was not published due to the collapse of the d20 market, so it all fell through the cracks. A few years later, Bill Webb asked me if I’d like to do something with these bits and pieces, since he was looking for extra materials for the expanded Rappan Athuk. So I went and integrated these ideas into a single, interconnected dungeon complex (with the Temple of Tsathoggus and the Abandoned Monastery on the two ends), deleting the Tegel-specific materials, and adding some more stuff so it’d work as a whole.

      Much later, the remaining Tegel materials became the first bunch of ideas for Castle Xyntillan (again, everything from the JG module was deleted, new maps were drawn, and new rooms were made up to fill it out).

  3. Ensanguinated Fangs of Voluptuous Drelzna says:

    It is brilliant to see Melan’s [ Gabor Lux’s ] work reviewed here again! Melan is an outstanding module author! I personally, again, would highly recommend all his zines [ Echoes From Fomalhaut ], modules [ Baklin: Jewel of the Seas, The Forest of Gornate, … ] and his mega-dungeon [ Castle Xyntillan ] to all who have not read and played them!

  4. Omega Dungeon says:

    I ran this a few years back, pulling out out of Rappan Athuk based on an old post of Melan’s about how that material had been originally intended for a re-do of Tegel Manor, and those 15 pages from that otherwise ignored megadungeon created some of my most fun sessions as a DM. It forces you to run it old-school, and the players loved digging into it. Later, when the Echoes additional material came out, I lamented that I’d run it already – and despite owning both pieces separately, I was eager to buy this version. It’s a consummate site-based adventure with no plot but “see what is here” and then a “plot” may emerge based on how the players go about things.

    Very rarely will I want to run a dungeon again, and this is one where I really think I want to run this one for many groups – it’s a very robust and dynamic location.

  5. Filip Gruszczynski says:

    Is this adventure a prequel to the revenge of the frogs from echoes #4?

  6. Anonymous says:

    I can answer this!
    The standalone version adds the entire wilderness section (which, granted, was already published in Echoes From Fomalhaut #04 as a standalone tournament module). It also underwent considerable editing to make the text more accessible in play, and presents the maps as a whole

  7. Anonymous says:

    This also included frog material from RA mega dungeon from Frog God Games

  8. Anonymous says:

    Any rating love for this one on RPGGeek?

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