Originally printed at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/03/01/tabletop-review-toys-for-the-sandbox-the-cursed-catacombs/
Booklet #6 in the Toys for the Sandbox series is The Cursed Catacombs, a short supplement for adventuring underneath an abandoned monastery. As with the others in this series, it is system-independent, able to be dropped into any game.
The seven page booklet consists of a title page, a well-labeled map, a page of general setting information, two pages of plot hooks, one and a half pages of characters, and a half-page consisting of two tables: one for random rumors to be heard and one for random encounters. There is also a small map of an island.
The basic story goes like this: the priests of a remote island monastery had rooms in the catacombs where ancient and/or holy artifacts were kept. Something awoke the power of an evil artifact being held there, and since then the catacombs have been dangerous and the reliquary where the object was stored is filled with a mysterious dark force. It is up to the GM to decide what happened and possibly use one of the several plot hooks to determine what is going on and how to stop it. There are interesting options here, ranging from a secret subterranean race to a Lovecraftian pupa that feeds on human consciousness. The hooks are organized under a specific angle like: “a recent earthquake has unsealed the reliquary at the bottom of the catacombs”, each angle giving three different twists related to that particular idea.
What Do I Think?
As with the other Toys for the Sandbox modules, this one is good for dropping into any campaign, or even a session that needs a little extra flavor. The writing itself could use a little work in terms of flow and clarity, but the ideas are there and they are good for the most part. I could have used a little more clarity, for instance, on the fact that the monastery is on an island that connects via tunnel to the mainland. It mentions the island partway through the setting information, but nothing else about it (aside from a small map). There are also references to orcs (spelled “Orks” in the material) that are not really expanded upon except that they are involved in some of the plot hooks.
I found the map to be helpful and having plenty of information, except it is hard to tell exactly how the various catacomb levels are all supposed to connect. This would be easy for a GM to simply ignore or make up himself, since the practice of creating dungeons is age-old. I’m certain just about any small- or medium-size map from another RPG module could be used without any problems. As with the other Toys for the Sandbox items, the most useful thing here are the plot ideas. The characters are interesting in this one as well, but the plot hooks are really where I find value in this supplement.
It’s up to the GM to decide how to use The Cursed Catacombs: whether as a side-note for flavor or for the main focus of a session. I think any GM would be pressed to use the supplement for more than one session of material, unless they just decided to focus a campaign on the monastery or some facet of the evil presence. As is, there is enough here for a party to explore and the GM to riff off of for a while, especially if they play up the mysteries that can come with an abandoned monastery.