Black Blade of the Demon King

By Ahimsa Kerp, Wind Lothamer
Knight Owl Publishing
LorFP
Levels 1-3 (Ouchies!)

Buried for 10000 years beneath a mountain of black obsidian, a sword of unfathomable power has just awakened. Now, in a desperate race against time and the elements you must try to reach it before its former master returns from his astral prison.

This 112 page adventure uses five pages to detail a dungeon with about nineteen rooms. I know that would normally mean I’m a poopy butt head in the review. And the dungeon IS a bit small. But this absolutely has a mythic feel to it, and the lead in to the dungeon helps with that. I’m not thrilled with many aspects of this adventure, but it also manages to deliver an interesting vibe.

This thing DRIPS atmosphere with every pore of its being. And that is how it manages a five page dungeon in a way that makes me not bitch about page count. When you get a town or a wilderness section to an adventure they usually are almost stand alone things. The town is a jumping off point and resupply base. The wilderness is a place to have wanderers to keep the party from tarrying. Maybe they both have a few things going just to keep things interesting, which is a nice touch when it happens in an adventure. This thing, however, is doing something rarer, but not unheard of; the town and wilderness are parts of the adventure proper. What happens in town helps build the theming and atmosphere of the adventure, as does the wilderness journey. It’s not that they are all driving the plot. Some of the encounters in town and the wilderness do, but, overall, they build on the tone and help immerse the party, and thus the players, in to the situation going on. And, thusly, once you get to the dungeon, proper, you are primed to accept the situation within with the context of what came before. This is not a new thing in adventure design, but doing it as well as it’s done here is not such a common thing.

So, you’ve got your +5 Bastard Sword that kills (save vs death) on a hit. This is a real deal thing of power. It’s the kind of thing that you wish the sword of kas was. And along with that comes a curse and an effect, after a certain number of people are killed then the demon king finds its way back to this plane of existence. Ouchies!  It’s sending out some dreams to people and they are migrating to the uttermost noth (3 hours of daylight a day!) and trying to find it … as it calls out to them. Booatloads of the people, daily. And thus we come to the town.

The town, sprung up serve these masses. A wretched cold place full of doomed adventurers, all being inexorably drawn and summoned to the place where the sword lies, yearning to be discovered and wielded. In to this we ass the church of law. This is LotFP, so absolute Law is as bad as chaos. They’d love to sacrifice you, and show up from time to time as randos, or foes. And then we’ve got four special NPC’s. A Paladin type, an anti-paladin type, and a rando. Butm, they are not set in stone. There are about five different options, included in the rear of the volume, to use for each one of these roles. Pick one out and insert them in. And they each are iconic. Really really well done NPC’s that can serve as a patron or a foe. And just weird. They range from your traditional fighter, with some theming to make them GREAT, or some really weirdo people. Very strong NPC’s. And a major part of the adventure is the parties encounters with them. In fact, you have five days to find the sword and after that there’s a chance each that that one of THEM find the sword. Or, you could be their hireling. Or they could be an enemy, one way or another. It’s a great little thing

Supplementing this as great rumors and encounters within the city proper. “Rollo the Thin is an adventurer who arrived three days ago. His party was attacked by a party of rival Blade Seekers upon leaving Støvring and only he survived. He is cut up to pieces and is dying in the Støvring Inn.” Nice one, that! Dying in the Inn. Prob the one the party is staying in. DId I mention the obsidian cliffs and the meteors? No? A giant, 20 feet tall (5hd. Nice!) attacks the town at one point. Or, maybe does, if the party is smart. Or a norseman insults them to a challenge … and both could result in the party gaining weird powers, perhaps by drinking a little giant blood? Fucking wonderful man! You get this sense of it being packed, and desperation, and its temporary nature. It’s great

And then the wilderness journey. Through the madman running a windmill. And on to some place to stay for the night. How about “This is a small hamlet, half-buried in snow. It is abandoned, filled with an eerie cold wind, but proves to be safe. If searched it has been largely picked clean but a large goat skull sitting in a circle of ash is found behind one of the Houses.” Abandoned. Eerie cold. Half buried. The ashes and goat skull thing. Yeah, no problem, let’s sleep here tonight …There’s this sense of dread. Building over time. Augmented by mini-game rules on the cold and corruption. It’s wearing you down. Finally you come out of a mountain to see obelisks in a rough circle, a tunnel leading down in the middle of them. The dungeon entrance. Again, everything that comes before places this in context and you feel the weight of the place. It’s earned. And the adventure does this so well. It’s not just a rando dungeon disconnected from its environment. 

The dungeon proper. It’s got a decent layout and, maybe only a handful of actual combat encounters. The encounters have a … I don’t know. I guess a funhousy feel to them? Or, somehow, mythic? But I think I’m overusing that word. It’s hard to describe. One room has a pool of water in it. A room of ceramic white tile in a pattern. And then, “The Nykkjen forms in 2 rounds in water, appearing as a white horse, and lashes out. “ So, a monster. But the form it selects is a fucking horse? Fuck yeah man! This is some early T&T shit! And, then too “If a piece of metal, like a needle or something iron, is thrown into the water the Nykkjen will cease to exist.” I mean, you see it too, right? Neither of those things is something that the modern deriguour of adventures is going to do. 

Treasure is lame. Except for the blade an quest items. Take that horsey room “4d6x20 gold, 3d6 precious gems, a pair of beautiful necklaces, and a magic helmet of water breathing, is a large goat skull with obsidian eyes and obsidian horns. It is cold and smells of the void.” We’re not winning me over with that. 

And the descriptions are generally not winning any time soon either. While the weight of the encounters is magnificent, this is done to the detriment of the descriptions. Again, for the horsey “This chamber features a large pool, about half the size of the room, surrounded by lovely ceramic tiles in cascading geometric patterns. The water is clear and shallow (about 1.5 meters deep at the center) and several gems, jewels, and coins glitter provocatively at its bottom” LARGE pool. Lovely is a conclusion. Clear and shallow is good, as is provocatively. But the overall effect is just not there. Or, for the first room “An icy, slippery hallway that leads down into the dungeon. An empty, howling wind fills the air” Empty howling wind is great. IN another room were told “Upon entering this barren stone chamber the characters will see, in the center of the room …” That’s pretty fucking terrible padding. Evocative writing, not padded out, and not including meaningless backstory (outside of the dungeon) is not the writers strongpoints.

Nor is, necessarily, the formatting of information. Again, a lack of focus. While things don’t necessarily run on TOO long, no one is doing anything to help you out here in the way of formatting things. It is the stickiness of the descriptions, here, that hold, not the ability to scan. Which is ok, but, also, not ok. You can’t count on that. 

I could, I think, go on and on about this. It’s fascinating. Much of it, in my journey, elicits a scowl. And yet it’s clear that the sum is greater than the parts. The wilderness and town, because of their more events driven nature, in particular suffers from some focus, and those descriptions in the dungeon are winning no awards. But man, it’s also a pretty sweet little fucking ride. And I have no idea how to rate it. This may be one of those super rare cases where it’s worth it to pull out your highlighter and jot notes. But, man, it’s riding the fucking edge. I could regert this, but, take your Best and fly off in to your owl sunset. 

This is $12 at DriveThu. The preview is six pages and crap, the first six, showing you nothing of the adventure. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/235400/black-blade-of-the-demon-king?1892600

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14 Responses to Black Blade of the Demon King

  1. Sevenbastard says:

    112 pages for a 19 room dungeon and it gets a best?

    Absolutely shocked! I’m guessing it’s digest as well.

    When did Bryce stop drinking in the morning?

  2. Reason says:

    It sounds badass. But yeah, that page count.

    Bryce, what is the breakdown of page count? Is it like 10 pages of fluff/padding/licences/etc- 20 pages of town- 20 pages of wilderness- 20 pages of dungeon- 5 pages of maps- 10 pages of new monster & item appendixes etc?

    • Sevenbastard says:

      I was also curious. The preview on Drive Thru shows the table of content.

      But I’m at a bar with my kids so I can’t really type it out.

      • Reason says:

        @Sevenbastard

        Really? I have no preview available at all when following the link or searching the product. I do have such for other products. Maybe they took it down?

  3. Hmmm says:

    If “lovely” is a conclusion, when talking about tile, isn’t “eerie” also a conclusion when talking about the wind?

    I want a list of conclusion words.

    • Reason says:

      @Hmmm
      Better to simply internalise the idea that the description should arouse the conclusion/emotion in the player/reader without having to state it directly. Show don’t tell is writing 101. It’s taking the time to place one step away in between your desired outcome “eerie” and figuring out how to evoke that through description.

      E.g “The wind rushes through the darkening pass with a low, whistling moan.” and the reader might go, ooh eerie.

      “The sunlight glints off the river as it bends past the green willows”- ooh lovely.

  4. Philipp says:

    Why is it always lvl 1-3. The scenario despription sounds like this would be a better fit for mid or high levels.

    • Gnarley Bones says:

      Ditto!

    • Max Z says:

      Because nobody plays OSR for more than two sessions *mic drop*. Or, not to be snarky, because the author puts out something for the starting levels and gauges the response. Which never justifies making something more high level.

  5. Prince says:

    I remember reviewing this one. As a con-game or a one-shot, this one would absolutely rule, positively apocalyptic.

  6. JB says:

    No.

    We are here for playing, not atmosphere.

  7. Joelle says:

    I’ll add that the table of contents in the preview is organized by “Day 1”, “Day 2”, etc., which is a big red flag for a railroad. Had the same thought reading the description of “some place to stay for the night”. Isn’t that a player decision?

    Cool high-level concept, but the prospects of unwinding a railroad, and what sounds like poor usability at the table give me pause. Why do I have to waste my time with a highlighter when the creator could just use helpful formatting? Echoing others in confusion at “the best” review.

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