Originally written at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/30/tabletop-review-dungeon-crawl-classics-83-the-chained-coffin/
After seeing several third party publishers like Brave Halfling run successful crowdfunding campaigns for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG system, Goodman Games finally decided to run one of their own. This campaign originally starter out to fund a regular adventure with a workable prop and limited edition cover. It grew to be an entire boxed set including an almanac and an extra adventure. Now, the boxed set isn’t ready yet and hasn’t been released to backers, so we’ll have to wait a few weeks until mine arrives and I can do a feature on it. Instead, today we’ll be looking at the version of The Chained Coffin that you’ll be able to download in PDF format from sites like DriveThruRPG.com or purchase in dead tree format your local brick and mortar gaming store. Don’t think you’re getting the short end of the stick with this version though as it includes several upgrades made possible by the 729 Kickstarter backers who took part, including some random encounter tables, seven mid-boss variants and more. So you are getting a bigger adventure than you normally would have – all thanks to crowdfunding. Hopefully you took part!
The Chained Coffin actually contains two full adventures. We will take a look at each one separately as they are very different. First is the adventure which bears the same name as the collection, The Chained Coffin. This adventure is designed for six LEVEL FIVE characters. Yes, that’s right. That’s pretty high for a published DCC adventure, so expect The Chained Coffin to challenge even the mightiest one time cheesemaker! I should point out magic and especially magic weapons are a must in this adventure, as many opponents have damage reduction or outright immunity to non-magical attacks. Going in without magic will get a character killed- even moreso than normal in a DCC adventure!
You would think from the title that a chained coffin would be central to the plot and it is in fact so. What you may not be expecting is that the inhabitant of the coffin is on the side of law and order. Usually coffins are the purview of chaotic, often undead, creatures. In the case of The Chained Coffin, an ancient and mighty priest of a lawful god has been locked up tight inside thanks to the machinations of an agent of chaos who seeks to become a demigod of sorts. The priest is now trapped in a permanent state of undeath within the coffin. The priest and his god make the coffin known to the PCs in an attempt to stop the servant of chaos who has reared its head once more in another attempt to amass vast quantities of power. The adventure will take through several dungeon crawls, although each of them are rather short. This is fine as you get several different locations instead of one long labyrinth and I’ll take the different scenery over a literal dungeon crawl any day.
Much of the adventure takes place in the Shudder Mountains, which will be give more depth in the boxed set. Here though you still get a pretty nice snapshot of this Ozarkian/Appalachian like area and its inhabitants. Besides random encounters with giants and bears, the regular inhabitants of hollers/hollows like Bent Pines or Bad Lick can be either helpful or send you on wild goose chases that eats up your time. Because you have only X number of days before the servant of chaos reaches a location where they can reign destruction down upon the land, time is of the essence and not something you want to waste on feuding with giants or selling your soul to demons like Ol’ Blackcloak. There are magical fiddles to be dug up, fingernail based fetch quests to win, and ghosts haunted by other ghosts asking for your aid. There is an enormous amounts of ways the adventure can go, along with several potential mid-bosses to face, like the Sin-Eater or Bad Lick Beast.
All of this comes down to finding the Luhsaal Wheel, which is the MacGuffin for the adventure and where the adventure’s final confrontation takes place. To get to it, you must first pass the spinning dial puzzle which trigger the whole crowdfunding for this adventure in the first place. The spinning wheel is a puzzle where you try to align all three rings properly. Do so and you can enter. Get the puzzle wrong and take damage along with a possible fall into a chasm. Unfortunately, there is no way the PCs or their players can figure out the solution to the puzzle. It is literally blind luck. There aren’t any hints and there certainly isn’t any logic to solving the puzzle. This is guess and check at its worst. The piece states that die rolls are not allowed, which is fine, and that player knowledge bleeds into character knowledge with this one, which I’m never okay with. The only real way to solve the puzzle is if someone somehow knows what any of these runes mean and that is very unlikely to happen. This was a massive (and annoying) disappoint to me. I was hoping for an actual puzzle straight out of old school D&D or like you find in point and click adventure video games. To have all this build up around the puzzle and have it simply be little more than a anthropomorphic personification of trolling rather disgusted me. Honestly as good (but not great) as the adventure was up to this point, had I known that the puzzle wasn’t actually a puzzle, I wouldn’t have sprung for the eventual box set and it was this Vince Russo style swerve that has kept me from backing the current DCC Kickstarter, Peril on the Purple Planet because I do not want to be this disappointed again. This part was just terrible.
After you get pass the massive disappointment that is the spinning wheel puzzle, you get your boss fight and everything wraps up happily ever after – as long as your characters live through the adventure, that is. You might even see one of your characters being a temporary demigod, with some big stat boosts of course. That’s always fun.
So that’s The Chained Coffin. Aside from the terrible puzzle that isn’t a puzzle, the adventure is pretty decent. It’s not as good as some other recent first party DCC releases like Bride of the Black Manse, The One Who Watches From Below or Intrigue at the Court of Chaos (all of which would probably have been better choices for the extra content and boxed set bonuses), but it’s a decent adventure, you’re certainly as fun with, even if a lot of you with house rule changes to the spinning wheel puzzle so players can get some kind of hint or tips on the actual solution. At least the physical wheel Kickstarter backers will get won’t be a one trick pony as the back of the book includes five alternative uses for it. That’s something I guess.
The second (and much shorter) bonus adventure in this piece is “The Rat King’s River of Death,” and it is for a party of Level 1 characters, although the text does not designate what size the party should be. Whoops. The adventure is also a direct sequel to the very first Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, Idylls of the Rat-King. That great to see a sequel to an old piece like that. Unfortunately, that adventure is for D&D 3.5 rather than the DCC system and it’s been out of print for some time, so the actual people who have played the adventure and/or will get the reference will be quite slim indeed.
In Idylls of the Rat-King the named antagonist is killed by the PCs, but this is not the end of his story. Reborn into a cloned body, the Rat King has now taken a position of power in a small farming fiefdom far from the site of his original defeat. He has begun to poison the local water supply, as well as the crops, with the intent to wipe out human life with some sort of demonic plague. Hey, he’s Skaven – their plans aren’t super well thought out you know…
Now it is up to a new breed of PCs to take down the Rat King and his nefarious scheme. The characters will have to deal with rancid, pestilence inducing water, magic plague rats, a hedge maze full of sentient angry mutant plant life and some rat demons. In the end, “The Rat King’s River of Death” is a fairly standard dungeon crawl where PCs get a small plot hook in order for them to traverse a generic location and do battle with the big bad of the week. Now while the plot if fairly paint by numbers, the creatures and locations really spice the standard formula up and make this piece a lot of fun. The adventure even has some dangling plot thread so you can keep the storyline going if you choose. All in all, a fun short pat little piece, which is all “The Rat King’s River of Death” needed to be.
So, for ten dollars, you get two good adventures, even if neither of them are as good as other DCC adventures released this year. The Chained Coffinis well worth the ten dollars you’ll have to spend to get it (Or seven if you get the PDF), but only time will tell if the Kickstarter boxed set will be worth thirty dollars. Keep checking back as once I have mine, I’ll do a full pictorial feature on what it all contains. Until then, DCC fans should certainly considering picking up The Chained Coffin. There have been better first party DCC releases in 2014, but both adventures contained within this piece are still fun in their own right.