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The Monster Alphabet
by Marco R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/08/2020 15:55:28

This book is a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to make their monsters more unpredictable and mysterious. Tables upon tables to spark the imagination. I especially recommend the " O is for Ordinary" entry to give old favourites a bit more oomph.

As an example, I rolled up an angel with insectoid features and the ability to spit acid - and from that followed the creation of Xkrrrg the Many-Eyed God, lord of all that crawls and skitters for my campaign world.

And the whole thing is system-neutral, allowing you to use it with whatever system you enjoy. Given the modular nature of monster abilities in D&D 5e, for example, it's extremely easy to translate whatever table results you get into the game. And the same is true for most OSR systems as well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Monster Alphabet
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #79.5: Tower of the Black Pearl
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/28/2020 10:54:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

This module is intended for 4-6 level 1 characters, and it works particularly well if one of the PCs has Sezrekan as a patron, though that is not required. A well-rounded group is suggested, as always, though the difficulty of the module is somewhat contingent on how nice the judge feels – there is one way that can undo death herein, making it a pretty good introduction to non-funnel gameplay for those new to DCC! Note that this only holds true for Lawful heroes. As usual, we get a break-down of the encounter table of the place, and the module comes with properly spelled out and atmospheric read-aloud text. The module also sports two different b/w-handouts of key areas. A brief table of wandering monsters is included.

It should be noted that this module has an alternate ending that can render this one of the most impactful campaign starters I’ve seen. I’ll discuss this in the SPOILER-section. Genre-wise, the module is essentially all about getting a cool treasure out of a dungeon – a classic, honest extract-the-treasure-scenario without bells and whistles.

This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only judges around? Great! So, the module’s premise per se is pretty simple: Once every decade, the Empyrean Ocean’s tides recede far enough to reveal the highest parts of an undersea tower, 5 miles from the ocean; the night this happens is now! If this does not suffice to entice your PCs, well the notorious pirate Savage Quenn might be mugging a magician, who fills them in. Thee pirates of the Black Mariah are also after the legendary Black Pearl.

The tower of the black pearl is guarded by such pirates, but provided the PCs persist here, they gain access to the Hall of Mysteries: Here, a massive register, and plentiful candles burn: The register contains the names of all Lawful heroes of the world, with each candle representing their life-force: Snuffing out a candle kills that hero! Conversely, if a lawful PC dies in the adventure, their candle can be relit! This is a great safety net for clever players. After this, we have a chamber of portals: One portal is intended for further adventures, while another requires a magical key of sorts – leaving only one way to go. Both animated fetishes, crab-rats, and the pirates present further dangers in the complex, and there is a scene with a Charon-like boatman – which thankfully presents swimming, drowning, hypothermia, etc. rules,. All handily summed up. Nice. At one point, the PCs will meet Quenn and his remaining men, who propose an alliance – because they (correctly!) suspect a pretty nasty trap room ahead: Quenn plans on betraying the party, obviously – but anyhow: The trap room is one of the good DCC-traps: The deadly component can be discerned quickly by the players if they roleplay smart, and even if they walk in, there is a means to escape. In short: Good design!

Ultimately, the PCs get to find Sezrekarn’s tomb (when he was still mortal), and take ruby gemstones from it: These are required to enter the place, where the black pearl was sealed: The pearl is firmly held in a dragon statue’s mouth – which itself, is in a HOLE in the water, depicted in one of the handouts. To reach the statue, the PCs have to cross the water – which is full of poisonous snakes. Here, only player skill is required; battling through the poisonous snakes is a bad idea, and the most lethal encounter herein. If the PCs take the pearl, the magic holding the water at bay fades – 13 rounds to escape the tower, as the ice-cold waves are rising!

…and then there is the optional ending. This ending elevated a well-executed, linear dungeon-.crawl, a good module, to what I consider to be awesome. If you don’t share my enthusiasm for it, detract a star. Remember the candles? As a default, the water doesn’t extinguish them. But you could, you know, choose that it does. This would slay all the big heroes of the world, exempting the PCs due to their presence in the tower. If you, for example, have been playing in a world where too many high-level former PCs still roam, if you’re playing in an established world with TMGAM-Syndrome (Too Many Good Archmages), this’ll upend the power-dynamics, big time. A kind of reset-button for the setting, a means to make the PCs go properly into adventuring mode – after all, it is their greed that wrought this new age of darkness...

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports nice b/w-artworks. As always, the b/w-map is gorgeous, but there is no player-friendly version included, which is a bit of a downer. The module comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the inclusion of two neat b/w-handouts is another plus.

Daniel J. Bishop’s conversion of Harley Stroh’s module is a good example of a well-executed little adventure; I am usually not a big fan of linear scenarios, but this is not only a well-designed example of one, it also sports a sufficient variety of challenges posed, and the alternate ending, as noted, is epic and make this module a rather efficient way to reboot a setting in which have run several persistent campaigns. For those looking for exactly such an angle, add a star to the final verdict. All in all, regardless of whether you do or not, this can be considered to be a success. My final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #79.5: Tower of the Black Pearl
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Fifth Edition Fantasy #2: The Fey Sisters' Fate
by Alex P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/30/2020 10:58:35

This is a simple, yet fun looking adventure. I am looking forward to running this game. I really like these campaigns as I am able to incorperate them into the world that I am building. I am using these amazing books so that I can work on the main story at the same time I am running a campaign.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fifth Edition Fantasy #2: The Fey Sisters' Fate
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Fifth Edition Fantasy #6: Raiders of the Lost Oasis
by Alex P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/17/2020 12:27:30

I purchased this adventure for a family adventure, and my family really enjoy it. I was able to create a beginning that got the adventures together and then start this adventure. It really is a lot of fun and everyone is really enjoying it. It was so much fun, I purchased another adventure.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fifth Edition Fantasy #6: Raiders of the Lost Oasis
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #77: The Croaking Fane
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/09/2020 08:38:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All right, so this is a dungeon-crawl designed for 6 to 8 characters of 3rd level. The party should be well-rounded, and contain a thief, means to deal proper damage in melee and at range, etc. – you get the idea.

The module is in the mid-tier regarding danger faced as far as DCC is concerned; i.e. it is a deadly adventure, but one with fair challenges, and one that emphasizes player-skill over character skill. Smart roleplaying is more important than just rolling well. As always, we have proper read-aloud text for every location, and the module comes with a massive, one-page handout of area 2-10’s scenery; oddly, the text of the module does not exactly state explicitly for which area the handout is intended, but it’s obvious from the context. We get pretty impressive b/w-artworks of the dungeon, but no player-friendly versions, which is a bummer.

…I freely admit that I wouldn’t have reviewed this module, were it not for my patreon supporters. Why? Because I’ve analyzed so many frog-themed dungeons, I have become pretty jaded regarding them. Still, a request is a request, so here we are. Theme-wise, we have a frog-themed dungeon, and one that adheres to a well-executed dark fantasy aesthetic.

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only judges around? Great! So, the module begins with a pet-peeve of mind, namely that it nominally introduces not one, but two massive secret organizations that your world now suddenly has to incorporate if running this as written: The two competing frog cults of Schaphigroadaz and Bobugbuliz. Schaphigroadaz’ followers, the Salientian Knot, grew lazy and were subverted by Bobugbuliz’ servants – but instead of being destroyed, they went into hiding…and Bobugbuliz and his clergy repeated the unwise decisions of their forebears, growing lazy – and thus, the rise of the Salientian Knot is imminent, as a war of evil frog/toad-cultists wrecks the underworld.

The PCs are exploring essentially one of the lost temples of Schphigroadaz, and have a chance to prevent his followers from returning to power. The PCs thus further the goals of Bobugbuliz or simply help exterminate one small chapter in a much larger bid for re-emergence in this module.

…nobody needs that. I am not adverse to lore; I love it. When it MATTERS. Here, though? I’ve rarely seen a backgroundstory so anti-conductive to making me implement a module in my game. The lore here not only makes the PC’s efforts matter less (they only deal with one tiny enclave of the grand toad war), it also forces you to include a meta-plot of two competing factions that is not particularly exciting.

Thankfully, none of this lore is actually relevant to playing the module in any way, shape or form.

Evil frog-temple there, go pillage/explore, escape alive. Bam, done. All that humbug with competing frog gods? It’s superfluous at best. Make it a small cult, have the PCs clean it up and feel good about having stopped the cult, done. That’s all the PCs need to know, and no, the lore does not feature in the challenges to a significant degree.

Anyhow, let’s take a look at the dungeon: While the entry is shaped like a frog’s maw, the interior of the first dungeon-“level” is actually shaped like church, with transepts, nave, etc. – and there is a lot going on here: If this was a point and click adventure, there’d be a lot of “interaction points” here – each transept is its own keyed location, and from sarcophagi to sacrificial pits the PCs can open (hinted at, so no, this is not an invisible-line pit trap!) to toad-goyles to a fountain that hides flesh-eating tadpoles, there is a LOT to be done here – this is a fantastic example on how to make a very dense area full of adventuring. Better yet, the challenges posed here, while also featuring fights, take great pains to reward clever roleplaying – in that way, this is easily one of the best such areas I’ve encountered in quite a while.

Add to that the at times grisly imagery, such as a cursed man spawning a flood of flesh-eating toads, and we have a module that, theme-wise, could be just as well run in Lamentations of the Flame Princess without breaking the theme. In fact, this module is superior to the author’s church-based encounter area for that game (“A Single, Small Cut”),

After the party has managed to brave the darkened temple, they will have to make their way into the undercroft, where the more hidden rites and aspects of the strange sect are on display – these include, for example, unholy texts that can infest the reader, mummified toads and more. The density of interaction spots slightly decreases here. But yes, this undercroft includes a massive subterranean pond, where the handout mentioned previously comes into play: A vast amount of giant toads can easily make this a super-lethal battle royale: If the PCs are smart, they can use their environments, and if they explored the complex well so far, items can help as well. The PCs may find a particularly unpleasant cultist left behind (who seeks to goad the PCs into helping him reach the spawning pool), and ultimately find the pool where the Salientian Knot is currently undergoing metamorphosis – slaying the mutated frog-cultists ends the adventure, right?

…nope! There is a deadly toad thing hidden below, for an extra challenge! So that ends it, right? Nope! Upon leaving with the hard-earned treasure, the stone toad idol in the church animates, the portals slam shut, and the party will have yet another boss on their hands! There are btw. a couple of instances of behavior or treasures found that can cause this to happen. Nice take on the multi-level “It’s not over yet!”-boss fight theme.

The pdf contains the new 2nd level plague of toads cleric spell, an immediate version of the affliction that makes flesh-eating toads burst from the target; it essentially causes damage, scaling Strength penalty and scaling movement penalty.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports nice, original b/w-artworks. The cartography is excellent, as always, but the lack of player-friendly versions is annoying. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I’m genuinely happy that I was asked to review this module, because it is easily one of the best frog-themed dungeons I’ve had the pleasure of running. The sheer density of things to do, the amount of viable, detailed interactions, is great. The fact that the combats reward clever thinking, and penalize simply waltzing in? Awesome as well. Now, as noted before, I genuinely loathe the lore and excessive background that does not meaningfully contribute to the module per se, but this can thankfully be entirely ignored. All in all, this is a great dark fantasy yarn. If anything, some more interaction, a means to save a doomed soul, a puzzle or the like – a few non-combat/non-trap-focused interactions more, and this would be excellent. As written, this is a very well-designed frog-themed dungeon, well worth of a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #77: The Croaking Fane
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #76.5: Well of the Worm
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/17/2019 08:07:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

All right, so, this is designated as a level 1 adventure for 4-6 characters, but as a whole, you could conceivably run this as a funnel as well; while there are no specific patron-gaining encounters or the like included, the module’s difficulty is lower than some of the tough funnels out there. As always, a well-rounded group is recommended, but as far as DCC is concerned, this one is less difficult than comparable adventures and doesn’t per se require a specific set-up regarding classes. A pole weapon or means to cause solid ranged damage is surprisingly helpful in this one, in spite of the cramped dungeon.

The module is also pretty straightforward in many ways: We have a straight little dungeon-crawl here, and a very linear one at that – if you want lots of things to fiddle with, you’ll instead find a hack and slash adventure. Theme-wise, this is firmly-rooted in the dark fantasy-genre – the dungeon is very Giger-esque, and there are several thematic allusions to the Alien-franchise. In many ways, this could be played in e.g. Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ default setting without much modification, so the focus here is less on gonzo or sword & sorcery, making this a more “local” feeling module that doesn’t necessarily require much in the way of setting it up.

As always, we do receive some very flavorful read-aloud text, and the module does come with 2 b/w-handouts. The map of the complex is gorgeous, but no player-friendly version is provided.

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only judges around? Great! So, the story is pretty simple: A madman called Solom Quor, driven insane by his contact with the Mother of Worms, has, over the years, degenerated into a barely human thing, all while breeding so-called war-worms – essentially worms with human faces, which gestate in humanoids, making acid-barfing war-worm zombies. Those slain by the draining of war-worms risk rising as war-worm zombies. Solom Quor’s plans near fruition, and thus the PCs have to brave the eponymous well and the claustrophobic dungeon it hides to stop the mad wizard.

The module wastes no time in establishing its atmosphere: Burrowed into the mortar of the walls, near mindless war-worms will attempt to drop on the PCs, dying if they miss – this suicidal attack establishes their mindless ferocity, and the first room of the dungeon proper helps this notion further: People glued to the walls with slime, incubating war-worms, are shown as the first handout, and some of the dead have already underwent the war-worm zombie transformation.

Navigating the claustrophobic tunnels, the party will need to brave combat in claustrophobic environments (including the chance to fall into pits full of war worms – hope the party brought sufficient means to pot-shot/pole-arm the trapped war-worms…) and find the horrid shrine of the worm mother (the second handout, btw.): Here, Solom Quor has a nasty ambush waiting, including a means to let rubble fall down via his escape route. The “rocks fall” does not mean that “all die” here, btw. – the cave-in only inflicts a moderate 2d6 damage to those trapped beneath the rocks. I am not happy with the implementation here – PCs “on the heels” of Solom are subjected potentially to the cave-in, but if it’s instantaneous, how does the one save make them get through a 10+-square tunnel? Personally, I think it would have been more prudent to realize the collapse via rubble falling for a round or 2…or1d3 rounds (with chances of being hit/pinned), and then have the entire tunnel collapse. This would have been more cinematic, and it would have been easier on the judge.

Anyhow, Solom, if he got away, will have his last stand with his war-worm queen, and in an adjacent part of the cavern, a blind, berserk war-worm zombie ogre awaits, which will be unleashed if the battle goes poorly for Solom and his queen. This one is easily my favorite monster herein, allowing for e.g. mighty deeds to target the stitching – and, being blind, the un-dead ogre also has another obvious shortcoming, beyond its blind berserker fury.

In case you were wondering, the module does offer random encounters, though these are easily my least favorite part of the module: Apart from the obvious war-worm angle, we also have snakes and vermin, and one type of spider can cause permanent Stamina damage, while a snake can cause death after 1d5 rounds on a failed save. Personally, I like such monsters to have some sort of context, foreshadowing or the like – having the random encounters be potentially more debilitating than the planned encounters is a choice I don’t particularly enjoy seeing.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, with no serious complaints on my part. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard with a few b/w-pieces. The handouts are nice, if not necessarily mind-blowing, and the cartography is nice, but lacks player-friendly versions. Still, I do applaud the fact that the module prioritized its art-budget properly and included handouts instead of useless encounter art. The pdf-version has basic bookmarks. I can’t comment on the print version’s merits or lack thereof, since I do not own it.

Harley Stroh’s “Well of the Worm” is a well-executed hack-and-slash adventure; I was particularly intrigued to realize that this wasn’t originally penned for DCC – Daniel J. Bishop converted the module from its original 3.5-version, and did so remarkably well. This very much feels like a DCC-adventure. It also does its claustrophobic theme well, and manages to evoke a rather fun atmosphere…but the 3.X-roots do show in the miscellanea. There is a bit less going on beyond combat than I’d have liked to see, and while Daniel J. Bishop did a fantastic job making the combat feel properly DCC-like, beyond that, the module doesn’t have as much going on as I’d have liked to see. This is, in short, a solidly-executed genre-piece. This is NOT, I repeat, NOT, a bad adventure. It is, however, also not necessarily one that will blow your mind. It is evident that the module could have used a few more pages to develop its themes. As a whole, I consider this to be a 3.5 stars-module, and while I wanted to round up, I ultimately felt that the module, ironically, considering its slithering, slimy theme, is a bit too sterile beyond non-combat interactions for rounding up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #76.5: Well of the Worm
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Fifth Edition Fantasy #2: The Fey Sisters' Fate
by Robert N. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/30/2019 16:22:53

Great low-level adventure that gives mostly wilderness encounters, but with one cavern/dungeon crawl at the end. The assault on the giant oak tree is like a low-level castle siege!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fifth Edition Fantasy #2: The Fey Sisters' Fate
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #76: Colossus, Arise!
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/07/2019 11:19:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue, as one of my patreon supports asked me to cover the DCC modules at my convenience.

So, as always, this Dungeon Crawl Classics module does come with a list of encounters; as (almost) always, we have exceedingly well-written read-aloud prose, and, on the less amazing side of things, the cartography provided is awesome, but lacks player-friendly versions, which means that only the judge ever gets to see them – unless you enjoy immersion-breaking numbers and secret doors plainly displayed to your players – and in this module, the latter would deprive them of one of the most brutal challenges within. This would usually suffice to cost the adventure a whole star, but on the plus-side, we get 7 (!!) handouts – 4 of them are one drawing, with shattered tablets against a ruined city backdrop depicting them. This has a certain Ozymandias vibe I enjoyed – but it’s not the coolest of the handouts.

Now, while having a cursory link to Punjar, the module requires just some kind of wasteland in the vicinity, so adapting it to your game shouldn’t be tough. Oh, and while we’re at it: WE NEED A PUNJAR BOXED SET. Adventure hooks are provided, including suggestions to bring deities and patrons into the fray.

…sorry for that, needed to get this out of my system. Anyhow, this adventure is intended for a party of 8th level, which, in DCC, is damn high-level. At this level, we’re talking about warlords, arch-mages and the like – and, if the players managed to get their PCs this high up on the level range, also, hopefully, a corresponding player skill.

You see, thematically, this adventure deals with the notion of the cyclical ages of mankind as a leitmotif, and is infused with a healthy dose of occult cosmology; this is very much a high-impact, unique and potentially campaign-changing module. Oh, and it is HARD. The module explicitly tells the judge not to fudge dice-rolls, invoking a kind of curse, which made me snicker for a second, but I get the notion – you see, the best of DCC-modules stand apart for being brutal, but fair, for grounding their challenge in how they challenge the PLAYERS and not just the PCs. No DCC-adventure I’ve covered so far exemplifies this better than Colossus, Arise!

Have your players by now learned to think carefully whether something makes sense in a dungeon from the purpose of its creators? Have the players learned that not everything can easily be murder-hobo’d? That they need to use the terrain? That they need to think quickly, and that brains beats brawns, that roleplaying beats rollplaying? Well, if not, then they will TPK faster than you can ask them to roll up new gongfarmers. Dumb or careless actions will result in save-or-die-scenarios, so your players should better bring their A-game to the table.

We begin with a random encounter-table for the desert, as the PCs set forth towards the lost city of Stylos…but why?

Well, in order to get into the details, I will need to venture deeply into the SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. Seriously, you don’t want to spoil this one.

… .. .

All right, only judges around? Great! Untold aeons ago, the champion of chaos Cadixtat was vanquished by the tyrant Teleus, thus establishing a dominance of law over chaos. Much later, when the proto-sub-continent of Lirea sank beneath the waves, a cadre of the mighty Übermneschen back then, the Ur-Lireans, split – some would venture north to become the apocryphal hyperboreans, while other discovered the temple cities that once venerated the mighty titans; when the sands swallowed these cities, the ur-lireans entered the eternal dreams of the black lotus, sleeping the ages away; after an endless slumber, the cities had fallen into ruin, with but the House of Cadixtat remaining.

Where the Ur-Lireans, 12 to 16 feet tall superior beings, were but a shadow of the titans, so had the third age of man, the age of the PCs, spawned a race that might well seem like a degenerate caricature to them – and thus, it is decided. The world would need cleansing. Lacking the strength of numbers required to enact all out genocide, the Ur-Lireans set out on a horrible two-pronged trajectory: For one, they would take people from the third age to generate a slave caste – the “Sons of the Second Age” – 10-foot tall humans “elevated” to being the soldier/slave caste for the Daughters of Cadixtat and their prophetess. Secondly, they would hasten the arrival of the new age, incubating the men of the fourth age – horrible worm-man things; degenerate, sans reason – a flood to cleanse the land in a cataclysm of blood and frothing rage.

Oh, and the old adage applies – that is not dead…they have another ace in the hole. The PCs are literally the only thing standing between the Ur-Lireans and an age-ending cataclysm. Stakes high enough yet? These cosmic stakes also are represented in the adventure – former PCs, NPC allies that have fallen – in the dungeon, these beings will have one final chance to warn the PCs, help them, etc. The module drives home the threat-level faced in this module in a fast and furious manner. Exploring the ruins of Stylos not only comes with random encounters – it also pretty much presents the first challenge -. 300 Sons of the Second Age. Yep, the first task is to get past a frickin’ army. The slave masters, with animal-headed masks bolted to their skull, making for a truly wicked caste of henchmen. Indeed, the temple of Cadixtat is brutal and focuses on indirect storytelling – the trauma of apotheosis, the horror of the salve masters and sacrifices – all are things that the PCs get to experience, and PCs not up to their A-game might well be trapped in a deadly trap. Particularly chaotic characters and those casters likely to suffer corruptions should take heed in some regions, and indeed, clerics should be very careful when it comes to their deities’ favor…

And at this point, we have barely gotten past the antechamber sub-level. Did I mention the Vitruvian-man-like door that has a regular version (one handout) and a horribly twisted one (another handout) that the PCs may get to see? Though the latter only briefly, as it’s shown in a vision? Love it! In the House of Cadixtat, the PCs can meet the ageless, but not immortal prophetess of the Ur-Lireans, shielded by living and hungry blue flame. Indeed, as in the best of DCC-modules, the players are rewarded for being smart – there is a scene where 4 gates represent different rewards for world-weary scions of the second age, ostensibly leading to an afterlife. This scene is also represented by a massive handout, with strange glyphs to be potentially deciphered…and it’s a trap. A truly deadly one. Here’s to hoping the PCs learned from a certain jewel-heist in Punjar…

Time and again as the heroes explore the alien horrors of ancient Ur-Lirean making, they will find Hel-Ooze – the horrible ichors of Cadixtat, growing ever more “alive” as the PCs progress – later building walls and crashing towards them in devastating waves – for example, when the PCs happen upon the massive pod-chamber where the men of the fourth age incubate – almost 500 of them! And no, the PCs don’t want to fight these all by hand – particularly since those slain by the degenerate worm-men indeed do return as similar monstrosities…one of these monsters could start an epidemic…

The final sections of the dungeon have the PCs literally move through regions that represent the 4 ages, allowing you to fill in the blanks – or rather, have the players fill in the blanks! That being said, ultimately, the PCs arrive to witness the final sacrifice: The daughters of Cadixtat martyr themselves with the help of the Handmaiden, their leader, to bring back Cadixtat! Between PCs and victory stands the chaos champion – a mighty warrior (Act 4d24, HD 17d10, AC 25, +24 atk…), and the willing martyrs and handmaiden. Ultimately, with a shudder, huge canopic jar leaking Hel-Ooze will shatter, revealing a titan’s brain – and the blackened, tar-like ooze will start taking up rusted weapons for the thing. Which btw. has Act 12d20, and it can dominate PCs. And then, bloodied and by the skin of their teeth, the PCs will have won. Right?

Wrong. The ground trembles. The PCs are hoisted up, as the temple breaks and they are ejected to the surface. And there, it looms. Colossal. Headless. Undead. Infused with pure, primordial fury. Thus, Cadixtat’s headless, undead corpse lurches forward, to bring death to an age. The PCs stand, alone, between the titan and civilization, with even the Sons of the Second Age falling like wheat before the scythe. Each attack of the titan is devastating, more a force of nature than anything that the PCs can kill, their swords but gnat-bites, their magics but tiny flecks of impotent light. Cadixtat looms, and the undead titan may only be bested if the PCs and players truly understood what they’ve seen – there area couple of ways that the titan may be defeated – all have in common that they are predicated on the players being smart and using the artifact level magics that they’ve witnessed to their best of abilities. Much like when they were 0-level funnel-fodder, they stand before something that they can’t hope to defeat without a combination of wits, luck, and, perhaps, noble sacrifice. FRICKIN’ EPIC.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Goodman games’ two-column b/w-standard, and the module comes with plenty of amazing b/w-artworks and great handouts, which, as mentioned before, help make up for the lack of player-friendly versions of the map. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Subtle, this is not. If you want gritty and grimy sword & sorcery, this isn’t that; and yet, it is a perfect example of how you do a high-level sword & sorcery adventure in the best of ways. Like Conan and Red Sonja battling Shuma-Gorath, this manages to blend epic stakes that couldn’t be higher with a sense of groundedness that is hard to achieve – the PCs are mighty, yes, but their opposition is truly epic, and just because your fighter might make Conan or Fafhrd look like a wimps, just because the thief would make the Gray Mouser look like a novice, doesn’t mean that the PCs are now superheroes – unlike traditional D&D-aesthetics, this retains, courtesy of the rules, a plausible baseline. At the same time, this only works, because the epic adventure has writing that is not only a joy to read, but that is intelligent and exceedingly well-designed. The module consequently rewards smart players and engaging with the adventure – it is brutal and deadly, yes. But not once did I consider it to be unfair.

This is a true master-piece.

Very few adventures have blown me away to this extent, particularly since the cover made me expect something…goofy? Gonzo? Instead, I got an epic that shows how an excellent writer can make just about any concept, even ones that would be utterly cheesy, work perfectly – to the degree where I guarantee that there will be high-fives, goosebumps and the cheers at the table; that the players will talk about this for years. 5 stars + seal of approval, oh, and this gets my “Best of…”-tag as one of the best adventures I know. It’s so good, I’d genuinely consider it even more of a system-seller than e.g. “Jewels of the Carnifex”, “Blades Against Death” or similar gems. Seriously, if you even remotely like epic sword & sorcery, get this.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #76: Colossus, Arise!
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/17/2019 12:36:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement 1 page back cover, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module was designed for 6 third level characters, with the suggestion, as always, of a well-rounded party as an ideal means to tackle this one. Fighters will particularly appreciate the numerous occasions where they may execute special, environment-specific mighty deeds of arms – at least I did. As always with Goodman Games’ DCC-modules, we do receive pretty darn impressive b/w-maps, but alas, as always, we do not get player-friendly iterations of the respective maps. On the plus-side, two massive one-page handouts that you can give your players does make up a bit for this shortcoming.

As always, we do receive well-written read-aloud prose to set the stage for each room.

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only judges around? Great, so first thing: Never show the cover and title to the players – the combination of cover and title are actually a big SPOILER, and can really wreck one of the key-scenes of the adventure.

Second thing: Even though this adventure has a serious marine/water-theme, it actually isn’t focused on underwater adventuring, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t find it here. (As a plus: Unlike the horrible “Shadow under Devil’s Reef”, it tackles water and the chances to drown with rules that make sense and are fun, so that’s a plus, even if it’s not the core component of the adventure.

Now, the damsel in distress is nowadays a cliché, to the point where the subversion of the cliché has become its own cliché, which, arguably, these days is seen more often than the original angle. The primary hook of this adventure is just that – the PCs manage to get their hands on a magical token, and are thereafter sent strange dream-missives from a gorgeous queen beneath the waves, imprisoned by a vile wizard, who beseeches them to free her. Interesting here: In contrast to many other systems, DCC actually does have its share of “rescue lady”-angles that have not been perverted/inverted, and as such, paired with DCC’s patron-engine powered propensity for spellcasters to be (even more) corrupt (than usual), the angle, if sold properly to the PCs, may actually work, when in mainstream D&D-iterations, the Ackbar-memes wouldn’t stop – ever.

This module pits the PCs against the defensive measures left by the grand sea-wizard Shadankin, who mysteriously vanished ages ago. Cealheewhalool, the sea queen in question, directs the PCs towards the first of the small dungeons herein – Shadankin’s Sanctum, where jumping from levitating turtle-shell to turtle-shell and grotesque lamprey-men, this is a cool start – I was particularly enjoying the notion of finding jelly-fish diving suits – for the PCs will have to dive into a lake that doubles as a giant hammer-head’s hunting ground to extract a mythic horn from a giant clam shell.

And yes, fighting underwater rules are provided. Indeed, this is one aspect of the module that deserves applause: None of the encounters throughout the locations within are boring or even mediocre – there’s something special going on in each of the rooms, with unique chests, terrain features and hazards providing, as a whole, a sense of a neatly-structured, thoroughly detailed and creative adventure. In a way, it is the inverse of the author’s Stonehell mega-dungeon, which I love for its own merits: If you’re familiar with that one, picture this module as featuring unique terrain features and treasure for pretty much everything.

The sanctum deserves another shout-out for a practice I really loved: You see, the adventure, as noted, has two handouts, right? Well, on each, we can see strange drawings and scenes, which can provide cryptic clues – and make sure that the story starts making sense in hindsight. The scenes do not act as spoilers per se, but cautious players may well derive information from them. Getting the balancing act between too cryptic and exposition dump by another means right is one of the impressive aspects of this adventure.

Speaking of impressive: Turns out that Shadankin had a compact with an entity most potent – blowing the horn summons mighty Tudines, a colossal turtle of island-plus-size, but only once every 3 years – so the PCs better make sure their sojourn into the second of the dungeon locales, which is a sealed complex within the inside of the turtle’s shell, matters. The vault of the turtle is the most linear of the dungeons contained in this adventure, and it makes sense – after all, this place is intended as one o safe-keeping. Giant anemones and box jellyfish acting as deadly treasure chests of sorts may be encountered here – and a warning spells doom for the PCs. Indeed, pillaging the vault will incur the sea curse – a switching of minds that is represented in real life by character sheets being cycled. (And if only one PC fails, an alternative is provided.) I really enjoyed this, as, much like a lot in this module, it is systematically designed to generate an experience that emphasizes player skill over that of the character.

Anyhow, with the key from the turtle’s vault in hand, the PCs make off towards the final small dungeon herein, which is situated upon the isle of Lone Ait – a forlorn place, trapezoidal, and wrecked by the forces of nature; the water surrounding the place tainted with oil and tar-like slick. Indeed, in a nice twist on the traditional elemental oppositions, we have an earth-themed dungeon here, with glowing amber spheres, tether balls that may be used by mighty fighter and the like awaiting – the guardians left here, from living tar to special, strange lizards, are not to be trifled with, and a final warning also is left – but in that final room, the sea queen and her handmaidens, gorgeous and in stasis, await. Freeing them, alas, will have them attack as soon as they’re out of immediate danger – turning into the monsters so aptly-depicted on the gorgeous cover. You see, Shadankin and Cealheewhalool once were lovers, and both adepts to the dark and unreliable arts of sorcery; Cealheewhalool was corrupted through and through, while Shadankin was not – thus, he imprisoned his lover, looking for a means to undo the calamity that had befallen his sea-queen. He never returned.

Thus, the queen of sunken Ru languished, until the wards started to fail, initiating the sequence of events depicted in this adventure. Defeating her will make the PCs friends of the sunken nation of Ru, which is depicted in an appendix of sorts, including hex map and currents – while I adore the depiction of the latter on the hex-map, this section also made me cognizant of a few shortcomings – for one, the currents should have strong mechanical repercussions, and the module could have been so much cooler with a bit more underwater action, particularly one enhanced by such cool ideas.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Goodman Games’ two-column b/w-standard, with the b/w-artworks as fantastic pieces throughout; the handouts in particular are great, and the maps are awesome; alas, no player-friendly versions are provided for the maps.

I am a pretty big fan of Michael Curtis’ writing – from his Stonehell mega-dungeon to his more well-known work for Goodman games, he knows what he is doing. In this adventure, I was particularly enraptured by the strength of each of the dungeon-complexes – they all make sense from an in-game point of view, they all have distinct, yet linked themes, and there is not a single boring room to be found herein. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by the adventure. It took me a long time to properly enunciate why that is. I loved pretty much everything, so why didn’t this click in the same way as “Blades Against Death”, for example? In the end, my response has to boil down to one word: Scope. While more actual underwater action would have been nice, I did not expect that, and the module doesn’t need it to be a great experience.

At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that all of the 3 complexes would have simply deserved more room to shine. All complexes are strong and jam-packed with ideas, generating a sense of a highlight-reel; however, they are done very quickly. They don’t have much time to fully develop their themes and atmosphere, teach the PCs and players their unique traits – they happen, awe your players, and then they’re already over. This is nothing bad per se, and for e.g. a convention, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better modules to drive home the weird/metal-fantasy aspect of DCC. This notwithstanding, with a few more pages, a few more rooms per complex, this could have been a milestone for the ages. As presented, we “only” have a pretty darn good module, bordering on excellence, but not wholly reaching it. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #74: Blades Against Death
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/15/2019 06:55:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

It should be noted that this module contains 3 pages of handouts – one depicting one of the more complex environments in b/w, and the other two provide full-color renditions of special cards that feature in the plot of the module. It should be noted that the module does also contain a full-page b/w-artwork of another key-scene, which is a handout in anything but name. As you could glean from the page-count, this review is based on the 2nd printing of the module.

Nominally, this adventure is intended for 6 – 10 4th level characters, though it should be noted that it is a BRUTAL adventure that may well result in a TPK. While difficult, the stakes do warrant this difficulty, and the adventure is fair in its brutal challenges posed. A well-rounded group is very much suggested, and the players should exercise sense and care when faced with the dangers within. The scales are high – as you could glean from the title, this module is about saving someone from the grasp of Death. If you’re groaning now, be aware that the module does acknowledge that there are bound to be multiple deities of death – the entity featured herein is just one of them, so no, this will not wreck your cosmology. I enjoy this premise per se, as I’ve been a huge enemy of the notion of the no-penalty death that many more current systems have employed. Death, in my game, tends to be final and requires a quest of serious severity, like the one presented herein, to beat. In that way, my aesthetics are very much aligned with DCC’s “Quest for it”-mentality, regardless of the actual game I’m playing. In case you do not have a dead PC or beloved NPC on your hands, the module does offer for an alternative hook, but ultimately, said alternate hook is pretty weak.

This module, as a default, is set within the city of Punjar, and does have some overlap with “Jewels of the Carnifex” - the Carnifex is actually related to Death, so if you’ve played that masterpiece, you’ll have a secondary angle. As an aside: Can we please have a Punjar boxed set?? Like, now? There have been few cities in fantasy gaming that I wanted to see detailed so badly.

But I digress. The module does provide rumors and information for PCs doing their legwork, and those groups failing to do so will be hard-pressed, so yeah – if by now you haven’t learned that your legwork matters in DCC, this will teach you – the painful way. The rumors and information is, in an interesting angle, grouped by class of those asked, and, as always, an encounter table is provided.

The module provides a ton of amazing read-aloud text oozing flavor, and begins as the PCs navigate a maze of tents and stalls towards the abode of the Witch of Saulin – but beyond that, anything I can relay would be firmly routed in the realm of SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only judges around? The witch provides a reading using the card-handouts included, and depending on the card drawn, the PCs get different prophecies – and, later, benefits! And yes, they’ll need them. Badly. You see, Death has two divine daughters – the Carnifex and Máni, the latter of which would be a moon-deity. The Carnifex’ shrine in the Charnel pits contains the entry to the realm of Punjar’s Death, but to have any hope of living through this region, the PCs will need to acquire the legendary Argent Falx a mythical blade bestowed upon Máni’s cult at full moon, only to vanish once more with the moon’s phases. Tomorrow, there’ll be a full moon. The clock is ticking.

The first massive part of the module, then, would be a heist, and it is one of the best heist adventures I have read – PERIOD. From multiple means of egress and strategies (including infiltration, sneaking in, disguises, brute force, etc.) to the fact that it depicts the ziggurat of Máni, the religious service and the priesthood in a truly amazing manner: Blending genuine magic and divine grace with sleight of hand and components of the ritual provided by the priest-hood, this is amazing: A mirrored shaft, for example, may be a means of getting inside, but it is constructed to generate blinding light when the full moon ascends…oh, and if you’re like me and LOVE heists, it should also be noted that there is a “radiant victory”-clause: If the PCs manage to pull off the heist without casualties, they are rewarded for it! Huge kudos there!

In order to pass into the veils of death, the PCs will need to use the argent falx (or reasoning!) to placate the raging spirit of Moira and gain access to the realm of death – provided they can survive exploring the brutal realm of death and cruel mockery of an undead court held by the lich-like Rastvik and his undead cronies! His realm, a more conventional dungeon, btw., would be illustrated rather well. If the PCs managed to bypass Moira in some way, they will be faced with Eris and Death – a game of chance with the cards separating them from triumph or death…and yes, while cheating is possible, you’d better be lucky and know what you’re doing! Either way, this will remain in the memory of your players for years to come!

The bonus adventure in the second edition, “The Abbot of the Woods”, is also penned by Harley Stroh, and is intended for characters level 1 – 3. It is a brief dungeon exploration that focuses on a high-priest turned sect-guru, who sought immortality by staving off the 5 dooms of mankind. As such, the remnants of his complex contains pieces of the abbot and the dooms – and clever players will have a huge advantage here: You see, the dungeon teaches by showing how the abbot, in a way, achieved immortality by staving off the dooms, but also drove himself insane – the relicts that may be found can thus potentially end his tortured and maddened immortality, yes, but it also can free him. This, alas, will make him possess the whole damn dungeon as a twisted god-thing– and each of the relics can be used to weaken, and, finally, slay the abbot. This is actually really clever, and provided the PCs pissed off Death in “Blades Against Death”, may be a cool sidetrek to get back on the reaper’s good side…if that can be said to exist…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Goodman Games’ two-column b/w-standard, and the b/w-artworks included are awesome. As always, the cartography in b/w is pure excellence, but particularly the heist really should have offered a player-friendly map for clever PCs to attain. The lack of player-friendly maps sucks. Speaking of which: The adventure has no bookmarks, which is a big no-go for the electronic version. I strongly suggest printing this or getting the print copy.

Harley Stroh’s “Blades against Death” is a masterpiece, pure and simple. It is one of the best heist-modules and Sword & Sorcery yarns I have ever read; while dipping its toes in the high-fantasy side of the sword & sorcery pond, it manages to deliver its content with such panache, that everything remains plausible without straining your sense of disbelief. From the awesome heist to the brutal dungeon, this module delivers with all of its components, managing to evoke an atmosphere that blew me away, that made me cackle with glee. The bonus module just adds icing on top of the awesome cake as far as I’m concerned, and content-wise, this should be deemed to be a must-own book for DCC-judges, and a recommendation for purchase even beyond the system. The module is just brilliant, and the flavor it oozes is fantastic. If you’re really picky and just want t play this using an electronic device, detract a star for the lack of bookmarks and player-friendly maps, but if you print out your modules or go for print, consider this to be a must-own 5 stars + seal of approval gem, a module well worth the rarely awarded “best of”-tag as a testament to its awesomeness.

Harley Stroh delivers once more, in spades – now, dear Goodman games-crew, can we please get that Punjar boxed set? Please?? I so need that in my life…

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #74: Blades Against Death
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #67: Sailors on the Starless Sea
by Jon S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/02/2019 21:33:44

Bar none, the BEST DCC 0-level funnel. Very playable. I happened on to it, and have spent HOURS searching for it's equal!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #67: Sailors on the Starless Sea
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #73: Emirikol Was Framed!
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/18/2019 12:53:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

Judges: Do NOT show the cover or name of the module to the PCs/players! In a pretty dumb decision, the title is a spoiler. -.- The pdf does contain basically a DCC-version of a spell to alter the visage of targets. (level 2, fyi)

The adventure is intended for 6 4th-level characters, and a well-rounded group is very much recommended. While dangerous, the module is not one of the most deadly DCC-modules out there, so survival-chances are decent, if certainly not guaranteed, particularly not without being…ähem…changed. The adventure comes with a table listing encounters, as always, and does feature 4 nice handouts – more on that later in the SPOILER-section. The adventure, as always, comes with well-written read-aloud text that helps less experienced judges evoke the proper atmosphere.

Genre-wise, this is basically a heist/assassination in a wizard’s tower – and in atmosphere, think of this as an heir of the classic “Tower of the Elephant” in its Savage Sword of Conan iteration, on LSD.

Want to know more? Well, all right, but to go into more details, I need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, so the PCs are minding their own business, when the city erupts in chaos, and winged gorilla-people start slaughtering folks, while a mighty magic-user is setting stuff ablaze! How’s that for an immediate jump into the fray?

In the aftermath of the chaos, the PCs are contacted by a cadre of individuals, who have identified the culprit as the local wizard Emirikol! The planning of the heist with the conspirators is pretty detailed and fun, but can also be handled rather quickly, depending on the preferences of your group…at this point, if you were so careless as to show the cover, the players will be less motivated, for, indeed, while Emirikol is indeed a chaos mage with a whole array of rather unwholesome predilections, he was not responsible. According to the (mostly) correct intel, the conspirators can help the PCs breach the ever-changing, shifting tower, its outsides in an obvious homage, guarded by wild cats, the tower constantly changing its composition. Scaling it can be dangerous, but the PCs will only have a certain timeframe as the mighty wizard ostensibly is in stasis and may be slain.

The main module is about the exploration of Emirikol’s tower, where space and time are not beholden to the limitations of the structure. The tower’s interior, obviously, includes a pterodactyl’s roost, strange trophies. Now, I mentioned handouts – one of them does contain an array of golems in different degrees of completion, and careless PCs may well find themselves locked in the bodies of these half-finished magical constructs. The handout illustrates these bodies, and while not all are ambulatory, many are. The PCs will have to swim up a column of water to traverse floors, venture into a cranium library, and it does some smart things: There is, for example, a chance to look at the adventure’s maps, briefly, before they “animate” and are thrown in the player’s face! In contrast to a couple of other meta-tricks, this one is easy to implement, fun, and should not result in issues – kudos!

There is a massive, sorcerous observatory with bronze scorpions (awesome!) and a sorcerous workshop that contains the magical weapon Ruin, a blade of liquid metal with a pretty nasty tendency to fan the fires of ambition… The module also includes the Kaj, a unique entity (represented in one of the handouts) that share actions between their bodies, making for a great boss…or rather, penultimate boss fight.

You see, arriving at Emirikol’s true sanctum, the wizard is NOT happy – his erstwhile lover, the powerful Leotah turned bitter adversary, was actually the culprit behind the unprompted chaos in the city, and the instigator of the plot that sent the PCs inside. (Both archmages are btw. represented on a handout!) As his constructs of iron burst through the walls, Leotah and her gorillamen crash inside the tower, starting an epic duel of spells and servitor creatures, with the PCs caught in the middle. A handy table helps the judge to keep track of all those targets – for at this point, most groups will probably conclude that neither wizard should triumph. Thus, the smartest move probably will be attempting to take down the Glass Darkly (NICE!), which, in a final nod towards the classics, initiates the tower collapse. Here’s to hope that the PCs don’t dawdle or are held back…for after this adventure, they’ll probably have made at least one powerful enemy, one with plenty of experience recovering from death…if the judge has a romantic streak and the PCs were particularly successful, the two mighty wizards may well end up reunited once again, focused in their spite and hatred for the PCs…just saying…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf offers plenty of cool b/w-artworks. The 4 handouts are neat, and I really enjoyed the gorgeous b/w-map, though no player-friendly iteration was included, which is a bit of a bummer. The pdf comes with bookmarks, but only basic ones for chapter-headers.

Michael Curtis provides a great homage of a Sword & Sorcery classic, seen through the aesthetics of DCC – it’s like playing through a Bal-Sagoth track. Outrageous, brutal and cool, oozing flavor, this is one of my favorite “Wizard’s Tower”-themed modules. It gets what makes a great wizard’s tower stand out – risk and reward are entwined, and while PCs can die and suffer horrible fates, these tend to be the result of greed or daring. Skill really helps, and being anything short of smart will be punished. Harshly. The finale is harsh and epic as well. The spoiler in the title is something I wished this had avoided, and the lack of player-friendly maps is a downside. And yet, I adore this one to bits. It has all those small touches that show that the author cared even about the small stuff, it oozes flair, and if you just remotely like Sword & Sorcery, then this’ll be right up your alley. All in all, well worth a final verdict of 5 stars, and because I’m a sucker for the theme, I’ll also award this my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #73: Emirikol Was Framed!
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #72: Beyond the Black Gate
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/03/2019 03:58:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 31 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

All right, so this adventure is intended for 6 – 10 level 5+ characters, and it is a tough one; this module can be very punishing for groups accustomed to hack-and-slash, and player skill can be rather crucial in determining success or failure. As always, we have proper read-aloud text for the respective environments, and the module sports a couple of different hooks to get the PCs going. Nice: We get different rumors/things PCs may have heard about, depending on their classes, which makes sense at level 5, when the PCs are bound to have picked up quite a bit of lore. The pdf offers up a new patron, who comes with full invoke patron information, as well as a new first level spell, slaying strike, which represents a damage buff to the caster’s next strike against the designated quarry, including the chance to send that target into a coma or slay the caster – but failing to strike the target can have dire repercussions on the caster. The module also contains a basically artifact-level item, a mighty spear and shield, and an interesting set of throwing axes that grows in power the more are held – but they don’t return to the wielder, so with each throw, the attacks become a bit weaker until they’ve been picked up again. This last item in particular struck my fancy – it feels very DCC-ish and mechanically distinct to me.

As for the structure, if the page-count wasn’t ample clue, this review is based on the 2nd printing, which contains a bonus adventure penned by Terry Olson, the “Clash of the Sky People.” This bonus module has got nothing to do with the main module, and is intended for 4 – 8 level 3 PCs. It is deeply steeped in science-fantasy, whereas the main module draws primarily from real world fiction and myth. As for “Beyond the Black Gate” – it should be noted that the first part of the adventure could easily be divorced from the main meat of the module, and, indeed, might work better that way.

All right, this is far as I can go without diving into serious SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . Only judges around? Great! So, we begin with a plot-contrivance, namely that the PCs are aboard a ship that is en route to the north, but the hooks do make that plausible and pretty easy to sell. Somewhat unforgiving, but plausible: You really don’t want to be wearing metal armor at the start of this adventure. You see, after a few Strength checks and the like, a ginormous wave will destroy the PC’s ship, and if you’re wearing metal armor, you pretty much begin the module only to die, no save. Sure, PCs may be saved by allies, but not in metal armor. I’m ambivalent about this. On one hand, it makes sense; on the other, at level 5+, a mighty deed or the like should be able to save a PC unlucky enough to be wearing a metal armor. I’m not penalizing the module for that mainly due to DCC’s emphasis on player over PC skill, and due to the fact that, at level 5, the player should really know to look for that stuff…but yeah. If you’ve been handling that differently, or have a wizard with a sea-related patron, this may need a bit of finagling. Also, due to the fact that this intended scarcity is responsible for the rather impressive difficulty of the module – RAW, there is a DC 13 luck check to gain a single piece of equipment that the PCs didn’t bring along when going above deck. Other than that, it’s back to basics, as they explore the sea-side caverns into which they’ve been flushed.

This first component of the module could, as noted before, stand on its own – the PCs have the means to scale the cliffs or explore the complex, finding rather grisly remnants of torture, and sooner or later face strange animals – familiars in fact, for they have happened upon a witch’s Black Sabbath. Minor nitpick: 13 witches (11+one+ the mistress – nice nod towards occultism) are involved, we get 5 different familiar stats and the note that not all familiars are combat relevant…and no indication of which familiar would be aligned with which witch. This is insofar annoying, as slaying the familiars would greatly weaken the witches. (And seriously, you’ll want them dead…)

The mistresses of black magic, under the command of “Baba Iaga” (GROAN - she is btw. a ridiculously weak adversary…) have taken some NPCs captive and task the PCs to venture through the eponymous black gate to the Thrice-Tenth Kingdom and undertake a quest: Find the Horned King, depose of him and take his antlered crown. The Horned King? Master of the Wild Hunt, and the witches. Or rather, erstwhile master. You see, the Horned King (who doubles as aforementioned new patron) is currently pretty impotent, lying in a stupor, his magics and powers subverted by the ice giant’s daughter. Okay, first of all: Nice nod towards Howard’s classic. Secondly: I like that the giants are smart, have three eyes, and that they ostensibly stole the third eye from Cyclops giants. I also like how the Thrice-Tenth kingdom is presented: No gods or patrons may be directly invoked, and cold magic is enhanced, while fire magic is penalized. It’s a small thing, but global rules like this do help rendering the environment feasible. Random encounters are presented, and upon arrival, the PCs may well meet a traitorous madman. There is one factor, though: If you already have the whole Wild Hunt and Baba Yaga-concept in your game, you’ll have to do some reskinning. Personally, I’d strongly suggest it, as both Baba and the Horned King are pretty pitiful as far as I’m concerned, but your mileage may vary there.

Here, the module becomes genuinely hard: Ginats are tough, have a high Act die, and if they had combat training, crit more often. (As an aside: The pdf does include rules for handling giant-sized weaponry). Also: They are not dumb. Careless PCs will easily bite off more than they can chew, and trying to hack and slash through this will not be an endeavor that’ll be easy to do. The module is clearly balanced around the notion that combat with more than one giant will be a highly risky endeavor. In a way, this reminded me of “Against the Giants” or Pyromaniac Press’ underappreciated “Seeking Silver”-adventure – just that this is, aesthetically, the DCC-iteration. Where “Seeking Silver” is vast in ambition and scope and feels like an epic “Infiltrate and Sabotage Isengard” –quest, including deposing off of key players, this one is more focused on trickery. Due to the sheer power of the amassed giants, PCs will fare much better when actually infiltrating the place and trying to bypass the opposition. Indeed, there is a secret corridor and a whole dungeon level below the citadel that have the dual purpose of allowing PCs, via more than one option, to get in and get out without being crushed by the potent opposition that the giants pose. This is an infiltration, pure and simple, and this notion is further emphasized due to the shipwreck that is bound to cost the PCs some important resources.

Now, as for the finale – it’s not exactly a showdown versus Azazel, and indeed, the Horned King may be taken down rather easily, should the PCs choose to do that. The giantess and her salamander-shaped allay make for a dangerous boss, as her kiss means instant death, as her dance transfixes PCs, but as a whole, this is surprisingly manageable. If the PCs don’t kill the king, he’ll bestow luck upon them, before leaving them to their tender fates as the remaining giants rush in – which is a pretty likely TPK. On the other hand, bringing the crown to Baba Iaga will net a reward, but also unveil that the captives are actually dead. Puzzling to me: Where is the option to become the new Horned King? The witches pretty much stated that they’d need a new sovereign; and killing their patron? That ought to cost them power, so where is the blowback for them, the instance where they become easier to vanquish for smart PCs?

In a way, the module tries to have its cake and eat it, too. It evokes classics of mythology, contextualizes them in a comparably weak manner, and then fails to let the PCs properly take advantage of the relative weakness of said entities, by locking them into a series of choices that doesn’t fully account for the vulnerability of said major NPCs. Particularly in a game like DCC, particularly with the “death of a patron”-angle that this represents, this rendered the climax and aftermath less than satisfying for me.

The bonus adventure, “Crash of the Sky People” is straightforward – the ship of the metal-winged humanoid sky pirates has fallen! The PCs get to best guardian robots, enter the ship, deal with the strange machines and tinker with subjective gravity…and participate in a sky-joust over the ownership of the wrecked vessel! And yes, we do get concise rules for sky-jousting with laser lances, on skycycles! There even is a 5-entry mighty deed-table to supplement this combat-based mini-game! (Oh, and yes, PCs that botch the module might inadvertently cause a massive nuclear explosion. There even is a nice and logical little puzzle included, one that also features a Flash Gordon reference! Yep, this made me smile! This bonus module may be brief and humble, it may not have anything to do with the main-adventure, but it certainly entertained me well! Did I mention that yes, bots have an off-switch that players may use? Did I mention that the PCs can get mechanical wings implanted? (Yeah, sure, the procedure could kill them – but no pain, no gain, right?)

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Goodman games’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports quite a bunch of really nice b/w-artworks, with the boss fight of the main module and a stunning vista of the bonus adventure represented as one-page handouts. The cartography for both adventure is b/w and very good, but we do not get a proper player-friendly keyless version, which is particularly odd for the main module, where an NPC would make for an organic source of a more or less accurate map of the Thrice-Tenth Kingdom’s fortress. Much to my chagrin, the pdf version of the module lacks any bookmarks, which constitutes an unnecessary comfort-detriment.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a bad module, not by a long shot. It is challenging, brutal and rewarding. It’s surprisingly non-linear in its environments, and it rewards player-skill over just rolling high. That being said, when compared to Harley Stroh’s previous contributions to the main-line of DCC-modules, it feels weaker. “Beyond the Black Gate” doesn’t reach the grandeur and nigh-perfection of “Jewels of the Carnifex”; it is too bogged down in quoting classic concepts from mythology and appendix N, things that most judges will have implemented themselves in their game, and are bound to have diverging takes on. I don’t object to those mind you – just their implementation. The mythology-backdrop that made “Doom of the Savage Kings” work so exceedingly well? That had been subtle and divorced from the big myth, being clearly a riff on Beowulf without actually stating as much. Here, the module flat-out tells you what the mythological figures are. And it kinda doesn’t earn them or do them much justice. It may even contradict established lore in your games. Granted, this may be a minor issue, but it is one that, for me, colored the whole experience of the adventure. Particularly since the module begins with the “easy come, easy go”-mentality we often see in Sword & Sorcery literature. It’s totally valid to cut PCs back to size, but first doing that, then throwing mythological beings at the PCs, creates this odd juxtaposition, where a level 5 group at the top of their game would have crushed those legends without being previously nerfed. Heck, that’s still very much within the realm of possibility here. This, as a whole, made the myth/Appendix N-aspect feel a bit like pandering to me; something the module seriously did not require.

None of the aspects, from the use of legendary figures, to the nerfing of PCs, would have been required by the module; the former is a cheap shot at getting an “Oh, damn!”-reaction out of the players, the latter an attempt to let judges eliminate problematic items to enforce an intended playstyle, when the like isn’t necessary. The skeleton of the module, its structure, wouldn’t have required this. Granted, this is better than using the “XYZ doesn’t work, because magic”-angle that many sucky OSR-modules use, but it still is a somewhat arbitrary incision into PC-capabilities that the players have earned with blood, sweat and tears. This is still a very good module – it’s just not as brilliant as the author’s previous offerings.

That being said, the bonus module penned by Terry Olson? It rocks. It is unpretentious, wholly cognizant of what it is, and gleefully embraces its aesthetics with a cheeky smile on its face. It is fun, fast-paced, and if you’re looking for a perfect fit for the Purple Planet boxed set (review forthcoming) or for a cool convention game, this delivers. Is it strange that it’s in this adventure’s booklet? Yep. It’d have made more sense in a more science-fantasy/sword & planet-centric book…but who cares? It’s a fun addition to the DCC-canon.

All in all, I consider this module to be a good offering worth owning; not the best DCC-module ever, but also one that is certainly worth having in your library. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #72: Beyond the Black Gate
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #71: The 13th Skull
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/26/2019 13:52:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review

These modules clock in at a total of 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by a patreon, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Why plural? Well, this one contains two adventures: The eponymous “The 13th Skull”, intended for 6 level 4 characters, and the second one, “The Balance Blade” is intended for 2nd level PCs. Both are written by none other than Joseph Goodman. Beyond these two modules, the pdf offers a supplemental article penned by Daniel J. Bishop – it covers 3 pages and depicts seven magical skulls. The first of these is massive and basically a terrain feature that adds some risk, but also boons to PCs – a major feature you can add to a dungeon. Grandmother’s Skull is interesting, in that it represents a means to converse with a maternal ancestor’s spirit and draw power from it; this is done via a spell check, though spellburn is not per se possible to modify the result; the benefits can be rather potent, but are countermanded by the nature of the ancestor – they have agendas, you know, and 7 sample true natures may be revealed if you really botch the check.

The Lead Skull of the Lost allows PCs to bring fallen comrades back to life, but there is a d30-table of complications that range from beneficial to, well, not, and returning with a magical skull instead of your own? (The item knits flesh over it…) It does change you, you know… The Living Skull of the Emerald Enchanter comes with full stats and makes for a nice addition to the modules featuring that villain. Also fully statted: The Iron Stag, a stag’s skull that allows you assume stag-form. Finally, there is a frontal bone that may be used to scry, provided you accept the spellburn required, and there’s a monkey’s skull atop a staff that is really loud – but which, once in a while, does provide genuinely useful intel…only the players can determine whether that one is worth the risk of using it…

As for the modules themselves: “The 13th Skull” can be undertaken by your average, well-rounded group without much hassle; “The Balance Blade”…well, we’ll get to that later. Both modules have in common that they sport the read-aloud text you’d expect. The former does offer a couple of local legends that are important to contextualize the proceedings in the module.

And this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, only judges around? Great! The module begins when the PCs watch an execution – but then, things turn weird: The decapitated head of the culprit turns on the very face of the duke, and the executioner unveils a silver skull, gleaming in the hot sun! The executioner grabs the Duke’s daughter with the help of a pterodactyl, and makes off with her! The duke offers a sizeable reward – so yeah, it’ll be up to the PCs to explore the ducal tombs and hopefully save the maiden fair. If they are smart, they’ll ask around first – for it is said that the duke’s family only received their status and wealth courtesy to a horrible pact with the Silver Skull.

Thus, the PCs enter the ducal mausoleum, and the PCs will soon be accosted by tomb shadows, and the skeletons of the ancestors? Well, guess what, they are missing body parts! Astute PCs will notice that the missing parts would make for a full skeleton – not accounting for the universally absent skulls. Ultimately, the PCs will find a secret part of the complex, hidden in the 13th sarcophagus, leading into a massive cavern, where a subterranean river contains an open gate into the lower planes, a hole in the water; the missing bones have been assembled, and a massive pillar, smack in the middle of the river. Several types of devils and the like will be fought, and there are two tasks here: For one, deal with the silver skull seeking to fulfill the infernal bargain – it makes for a deadly boss that smart players may have an edge. The daughter, though? That’s another thing: The PCs can find the Book of Planes, which allows them to travel some planes (a nice trip to the plane of water, for example) and save the damsel from her infernal captor, a barbed devil. Here’s a big issue: The barbed devil has a huge chance of killing off the duke’s daughter with AoE attacks, and the module implies that quick PCs can save her while she’s bound etc.

The issue? We have no idea regarding the dimensions of the room. How far away from the daughter the PCs manifest, and thus, it’s very much unclear how big the chance to save her should be. The combat is laid out as a tactical encounter in a feature-less plane (that is not featured on the map), but fails to specify the spatial relationship between players, adversary and captive, making the most crucial component of the pdf subject to judge fiat, and not in a good way. This is easily the weakest aspect of this otherwise cool, short module, and the only instance that simply doesn’t seem to be fair.

The second module, “The Balance Blade”, comes with the caveat that it works best as a convention game. I’d add that, imho, it ONLY works as a convention game and doesn’t really have a good reason for working as it does. The module is about claiming a legendary artifact, the Balance Blade, for the wizard’s patron. It also requires all alignments to be there; and some prep-work for index cards and stickers that affect the penultimate encounter. I’ll get to that later. So, the complex has components that require certain alignments to pass, and since a rather deadly and mechanically interesting chaos beast is right there in the beginning, unlucky groups that lose required alignments could be locked out of the module right then and there. This is doubly odd, as the challenge posed by the module doesn’t require the alignment component to make the material work; this is solely an arbitrary choice made for the sake of emphasizing alignments.

Aforementioned index cards btw. influence the shape that PCs see from a succubus, and the module encourages PCs going PvP and acting in-game…which does make sense, but at the same time – why doubt your colleagues in a game, where shapechangers are a staple? To quote the module: “For example, when chaotic creatures attack the spider-demon, neutral characters will see their allies striking a child and should react accordingly!” That may work with strangers at a convention. At a homegame, where everybody knows and trusts each other? Where PCs have played with one another for multiple adventures? Not gonna work. At least, I have no idea how to make that reliably work. After walking through an impressive, vast tomb of the last colossus, the PCs will claim the Balance Blade, only to have the wizard/patron go full-blown evil moustache-twirler and attack the others. The reasoning of the patron makes no sense (why kill the allies of the wizard, who have been so great helping the patron’s pawn?), the wizard can’t be saved (DC 30 Will save to resist the patron), etc. This is just frustrating and sucky in any context that is not a convention game, and it’d seriously infuriate me, regardless of who I’d be playing. Considering this very specific context, the lack of pregens is another downside here. This is easily the worst module I’ve read for DCC so far, and frankly, I wouldn’t judge this as a convention either. There are plenty of better options out there.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, and good on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to Goodman games’ two-column b/w-standard, and features plenty of nice b/w-artworks. The b/w-cartography, as always, is very good, but lacks both a player-friendly version, and in the first module, a map for the most tactical combat in the whole module, for the one combat where positioning REALLY matters, is genuinely a matter of life and death. The pdf version sports basic bookmarks for chapter-headers.

Okay, weird. Usually, Goodman Games’ DCC-modules tend to have something that draws me in, and while “The 13th Skull” has a great premise, a cool, small complex to explore and some evocative ideas, it does fall short in a very crucial encounter. While the handout of a certain book is nice, I couldn’t help but feel like a proper map would have been better there. “The Balance Blade”, to me, is an abject failure that railroads the PCs and their agenda in some seriously sucky ways, that is needlessly meta in its mechanics, and that, ultimately, represents my least favorite DCC-module, regardless of publisher, to date. I seriously HATE it. I don’t just dislike it, I actually HATE it. It represents so many contrivances and things that I loathe in fantasy books, and that never worked well in commercial modules. I can see it work for very specific groups, but I can’t ever see it reward you properly for the amount of prep-work it requires. Daniel J. Bishop’s skulls, finally, and thankfully, I might add, manage to end this one on a higher note.

How to rate this? Well, this is one of the few DCC-modules where I’d advise in favor of skipping it. “The 13th Skull” isn’t bad, but neither is it brilliant; it’s a solid offering for completionists, but you’re better off with pretty much almost every one of the other DCC-modules Goodman Games released. Compared to e.g. the fantastic “People of the Pit”, this falls short in a ton of ways, with “The Balance Blade” being imho wasted wordcount that “the 13th Skull” could have used to further develop its cool planar angle. All in all, my final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #71: The 13th Skull
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/05/2019 05:27:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, ½ a page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 31.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This adventure is intended for 6 – 10 level 3 characters, and is situated in the city of Punjar. Picture an opium-clad, decadent haze, a metropolis of ancient stones, foundations old as time itself. A moloch – you don’t have to run this in Punjar, but you do need to have a decadent city with a storied past. As always, we do get plenty of read-aloud text, as well as a list of the encounters in question. My insistence on the setting of this module stems from its difficulty: The adventure’s complex is dangerous and pretty much requires that you can set it up properly. Without foreshadowing the shape of things to come, the players will be hard-pressed in this one. Groups that have no idea what “legwork” means will learn the hard way here that this rumor table that’s included herein? It’s not just decoration.

The module features two official handouts – one depicting a pretty epic room, one depicting a scroll that takes up half a page. Official handouts? Yep, one of the primary sources of treasure (and danger) is lavishly illustrated in a gorgeous full-page piece. This, while not explicitly designated as a handout, is de facto the third one.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . Only judges around? Great! So, in ages past, the cult of the Carnifex rose: Recruiting from the lowest of castes, from the diseased and crippled, a strange death cult arose, exalted in its worship of the transience of flesh, serving as the grand Overlord’s executioners, reminding the decadent nobility of the ephemeral nature of their lives, of the might of Punjar’s ruler and the cult. The decadent city’s delight over the macabre chthonic cult wasn’t universally shared, though – thus came Azazel of the Light, radiant and fanatic, bent on purging the world of the unclean. He amassed his Swords of the Pious and invaded the subterranean sanctuary of the Carnifex cult with a small army of the city’s brightest scions, girded in armor agleaming in the rays of sacred light. They dived below, but for all his might, not even Azazel could hope to slay the goddess. In his desperation, his pleas echoed beyond the realms of godlings and divinities, and tapped into the primal source of life itself. Suffused by the light of raw creation, he plunged the goddess into darkness, and sealed her away with the sacrifice of three of his best. Today, the descendants of the nobles that fought the Carnifex and her cult guard the hidden entry to the tunnels below – and the secret that remains.

It is into these storied halls that a ragtag group of adventurers wants to make their way into, that they’ll seek to plunder for gold and glory.

Come on, if that is not a set-up of pure awesomeness (and my prose is not half as good or detailed as the authors’, what is? This basically is the perfect Thief-age Conan story-set-up. This background story, or at least the nature of the Carnifex cult, is of the utmost importance for the PCs to know, for the beginning of the complex is very much crafted to potentially ward off intruders: Provided the PCs don’t fall to an ignoble death or are eaten by an immobile, disgusting and bloated spider-thing that tries to reel them in, cave-fisher style, they will witness skull-and-bones-death iconography that would be cheesy sans context, but for once actually works here. The PCs may actually cause and be swept away by an avalanche of skulls and indeed, further pain looms – as well as the bottleneck. The nature of the cult? Its secrecy and deviousness? It makes sense: In one room, the PCs are presented with multiple doors, and while the impulse is, of course, that one is the right one, they all lead to danger. The truth is a kind of Xanatos Gambit – none of the doors are correct, and the entry to the hidden sanctuary is actually a completely different thing. Considering the deadliness of the door traps, it takes some experienced players accustomed to dungeons that can make sense from a builder’s perspective to deduce this beforehand…though the challenges themselves can well be survived.

Though, granted, the PCs will need their resources for the things to come after this nice ante-chamber-ish mini-level. If the PCs have survived the challenges so far, they know what they’re doing. That’s good, for they are facing off against a military force. The swords of the pious yet guard these halls, and with drums, guards and a defense plan, they are formidable foes, fanatical in their devotion. They also are grotesquely mutated from the radiance emitted by the shell of Azazel, by the force of life. Death, but a conclusion to their service…which in itself is twisted, considering the ideologies of the prime players in question. The PCs may discern more from the ramblings of an exiled madman from their ranks, should they succeed in not being slain first, though traps and tactics make that a true challenge…but one that may pay off: The unofficial handout I mentioned? Well, these halls house the reliquary, where the most sacred implements and magickal tools of the Carnifex are left, from the eponymous jewels to the dreaded Grimoire Nex…but greed does have its dangers – this is not a place for the faint of heart or unskilled to plunder, and the intrinsic details provided ultimately mean that success is very much up to the skill of the players in judging, amidst other things, the risk-reward ratio accordingly.

Sooner or later, the PCs will find themselves in a brutal battle against a legion of the swords of the pious, and, should they live, have a chance to witness the lavishly illustrated and grotesque idol venerated by Azazel…speaking of whom…well, turns out he killed the three swords to seal the Carnifex, but the incomplete binding (which constitutes a kickass puzzle that can be solved logically) leaves only one conclusion: Azazel has never completed it. He refused to sacrifice himself and finish the job! At the very latest should this seal be sundered, Azazel will attack with all that remains of his mighty force. The radiant commander has perfectly drilled his men, and beyond that, strikes against him rupture the hollowed out shell of the divine essence…oh, and he has his own frickin’ crit-table. It’s deadly, and his tactics basically make him a multi-stage boss fight of the highest caliber, honestly one of the best finales to an awesome module I’ve seen. Oh, and yeah, the PCs may free the Carnifex. Meet her. Talk to her…or, if they fall, they may find such interesting amulets on their necks…And yes, the Carnifex is described in a way that manages, in a few sentences, to make her both alluring and utterly frightening. And yes, if you do think that the vast treasure may prove to be an issue – there are some ideas to handle that provided…

The bonus adventure included, penned by Brendan J. LaSalle “Lost in the Briars” doesn’t really have anything to do with the main adventure, but I actually believe that this is a good thing this time around. More focused, it represents a brief wilderness adventure. Nockmort, a meteorite-mutated treant, has almost finished a ritual that would allow it to ascend to godhood – all that it requires is an elf, so an elven PC (or an ally/retainer) can help regarding the stakes. The forest exploration features trees animated by Nockmort handing off, fire-brigade-like, animals, fleeing peasants, bandits, and a take on the Slenderman, Mr. Saturday Night. The forest also features a couple of keyed encounters, but ultimately focuses on thwarting Nockmort’s ascension ritual….and yes, it has less reliable Plan B scenarios…Nockmort, fyi, is BRUTAL. This may “just” be a humble bonus adventure, but it is NOT to be taken lightly! Unlike the main-module, it does not feature read-aloud text, which is a bit of a pity, considering how much I usually enjoy the author’s prose.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch on a rules-language and formal level. The module sports a ton of fantastic b/w-artworks of the highest quality, and particularly the two official/unofficial full-page artwork/handouts are amazing and make up for the fact that no player-friendly unlabeled maps are included in the deal – which is a pity, for the gorgeous b/w-map also sports artworks of adversaries faced within. Utterly baffling and hopefully an oversight – the pdf-version actually has no bookmarks! That is a huge and annoying comfort-detriment. If you don’t want to print this (which I did) or get it in print, consider this enough to detract a star.

I like how Brendan J. LaSalle’s bonus adventure takes a step back and does something completely different; it is a mechanical challenge and a fun, on-the-way sidetrek module that still has the DCC-flavor. It was a wise choice to opt for this route.

Why? Because I consider Harley Stroh’s “Jewels of the Carnifex” to be an example of a nigh-perfect Sword & Sorcery yarn. The prose is phenomenal and lavish, yet terse enough so it doesn’t bury you. The complex is plausible, deadly, and focuses, ruthlessly, brutally, beautifully on player agenda and player skill over rolling of the bones…though there’ll be plenty of that. I also adore and welcome the fact that this module pulls no punches. At 3rd level, your PCs and players better know how to properly dungeoncrawl – or this module will teach them. With delicious pain. This is a hard module in all the right ways. It makes sense, and even in its nastier moments, always remains fair. This is the antithesis of petty and fiat-laden – it is brutal, yes. As brutal as a good Sword & Sorcery yarn should be. It also helps that the prose and atmosphere feels as though Mr. Stroh had channeled the spirits of Leiber and Howard (or Roy Thomas, Savage Sword of Conan, minus the requirement to abide by the comic code – that was the non-goofy, pretty mature-audiences-oriented era…) and fused them with adventure-writing. This reads like a lost Conan-as-a-thief story, just with your PCs as the cast – and it plays just that way. And, in the end, you may well have a king’s ransom to carouse away in Punjar’s streets…provided you survive.

If that has not been made ample clear by now – I consider this a brilliant yarn. If you even remotely enjoy the Sword & Sorcery or dark fantasy genres, then consider this a must-buy. 5 stars + seal of approval, easily given. This also gets my best of tag as one of my all-time favorite Sword & Sorcery modules – and that in spite of the lack of bookmarks and player-friendly maps, which usually would cost this at least one star – it’s just too damn amazing to rate down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
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