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Dungeon Crawl Classics #40: Devil in the Mists
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/01/2018 10:13:21

The pollution in Fair Haven is getting really bad... there's this blue mist that is killing some of the inhabitants and sending many of the rest insane. It seems to be coming from the sewers, so of course any adventurer worth the name will be straight down there to find out what's going on.

The DM notes begin with an overview of the adventure, there's an encounter list, scaling information, and some notes on how best to get the party involved. This adventure can be run as a sequel to DCC7: The Secret of Smuggler's Cove, but if you don't want to do that there are a couple of other ideas to propel them in the right direction. There's also plenty background material to make sure that you're clear about what's actually going on and how it came about... underpinning it all is a devilish plot to turn the world into another plane of Hell!

The adventure proper begins with an investigation into the noisome sewers of Fair Haven. They're cramped, smelly, and there are always traces if not pockets of the deadly blue mist. Also, there are wandering monsters to contend with. There is also a magnificent puzzle/trap that appears to be the key to dealing with the mist. This includes a riddle that appears almost out of thin air, for which a handout is supplied. It's noted that a particularly harsh DM might show it only to the player of the character who sees it, and snatch it away after the 30 seconds for which it appears (I had a DM play a similar trick on me once... the poor dear didn't know I have a near-photographic memory and just wrote out the message that had faded before my character's eyes!). There's a lot more to find, to fight, and to puzzle out down here. And the smell never gets any better!

As the riddles of the sewers are solved and the inhabitants put to the sword, eventually the party should open a portal to... well, somewhere else. They get sucked in, it's unavoidable. It's a dimensional prison, caging something that really, really ought not to be allowed out; and it's full of cryptic traps and puzzles. They are partly to keep the inmates in and partly to stop anyone breaking in to rescue them, and there's a third, darker, purpose (which could lead to further adventures...). A mix of aggression and cunning is needed here. Nothing is what it seems, but all is extremely dangerous. Indeed, it's likely that not all the party will survive. There is layer upon layer, you think you've reached the end and yet another level opens before you...

The end is suitably dramatic, with the party returned to a sunny Fair Haven with an enigmatic voice ringing in their ears. There are some ideas for follow-up adventures too. If you want a wild ride of deadly danger with the well-being of the very world at stake, look no further!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #40: Devil in the Mists
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Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Halloween Module: Shadow Under Devil's Reef
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/01/2018 07:09:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third DCC-Halloween module clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, ½ a page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19.5 pages. Unlike previous Halloween modules, this one is laid out in standard size, so it’s actually a tad bit longer than the two shorter ones I’ve covered so far. But does quantity mean quality here? Let’s take a look!

This review was requested and sponsored by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

It should be noted that the final ½ page of the module contains a couple of pregens, in case you have casualties. The module is intended for 4 – 6 first level characters, but it may also be run for quadruple that number 0-level funnel characters. Indeed, I think this may work better as a deadly funnel or one-shot. I strongly suggest the party to include a character with the Animal Trainer occupation, and I REALLY recommend the group to be able to cast Comprehend Languages. You’ll see why later.

The module does provide read-aloud text and a handwave-style abstractions for quick mass-combat resolution for 0-level NPCs. This sidebar is pretty much superfluous as far as the module is concerned

However, before I go into the details, I will pronounce the obligatory SPOILER-warning. The following thoroughly discusses the module. As such, only judges should continue reading.

..

.

All right, only judges around? Great! So, this is, as the module acknowledges, a kind of homage/riff on “Shadow over Innsmouth.” It begins in the backwater place named Black Sand Port, where wreckage has a couple of strange survivors of Fu-Lamian descent wash ashore. The greed of the burgomaster’s spurred – and hopefully that of the PCs, as the survivors tell them about Princess Kaeko, who had been aboard their crashed ship. A list of 18 rumors is provided for the region.

It is assumed that the PCs basically steal a boat and get it towards the infamous coral reef known as the eponymous “Devil’s Reef” – and there is a chance to save some survivors. Making their way past the saltwater graveyard created by razor-sharp corals and the sharks that haunt these waters, the PCs enter the jagged landscape, where the boat may take damage if the PCs don’t get the pattern of reefs. A failure damages the boat. How much damage can it take? Well, the boat doesn’t get stats when it’s acquired – these are hidden in a somewhat counter-intuitive manner in the first encounter potentially featuring it.

The coral island does come with random encounters that center mostly on deep ones. There is a deep one caster here with a name, and the island otherwise is pretty brief; there is an onyx pillar topped with a ruby. Touching the pillar shocks you; shooting at the ruby will the pillar fire a lightning bolt at the offender. Hitting the ruby with a ranged attack has a small chance to knock it loose, and touching it after that may provide a flash of insight that is one of the obtuse ways to solve a bottleneck of the adventure – but more on that later.

It would make sense for the PCs to explore the wrecked ship, the Royal Dawn, and the brief exploration of the ship wreck is indeed interesting: Provided the PCs haven’t yet experienced it themselves, they will have heard about it/deduced it: oddly, proximity to the island and exploration seems to make the respective persons undergo a kind of transformation – in 8 steps towards a Deep One Hybrid, with step #8 equaling game-over. This is per se a solid angle. Anyhow, the Royal Dawn shows serious signs of struggle, and exploring it may put the PCs into a dialogue with a statue of Farrin-Shae, the guardian demoness of sorts of the vessel, who might well proceed to animate the slain on board into devil-like looking things that actually are undead. The true treasure of the vessel, though, is actually something the PCs may well slay – the abducted princess had a pet, a so-called psi-spider, and its touch/attempt to communicate causes damage. Animal Trainer AND resisting the impulse to slay it, is one thing that will make the finale/aftermath much easier – provided the critter lives through the module, that is.

Anyhow, back to the isle, as ultimately, exploration of the wreck could conceivably be skipped: On the island, there is a set of lavishly onyx double doors: A piece of b/w-artwork shows a character being fried by them, and the choice to make this artwork is utterly puzzling to me. Why? Well, the door has two dials that may be moved in one of 5 positions. Can’t read Aklo/don’t have aforementioned spell? Well, have fun trying to frickin’ brute-force the doors and being shocked all the time. Two of the runes, provided the PCs can read them, correspond to Celaeno and Polaris. Okay, so what? This looks like a puzzle that was supposed to feature a visual representation…you know, like quite a few Goodman Games DCC-modules offer? Instead, we get a solid, but ultimately useless artwork. Oh, and there are TWO such doors in the module. The second one has a different combination!

The least frustrating approach here is indeed when the players have not learned from being zapped by aforementioned ruby and knocked it down – then, at least they know the combination. This should have been a puzzle, and instead is an exercise in frustration and trial and error. That happens twice. Blergh.

Beyond the doors lies the truth, the reason for the mutation-impulse that has taken a hold of NPCs and PCs alike: The PCs stumble into an Elder Thing lab, where a star-spawn of Cthulhu is kept trapped. Its presence sends a telepathic impulse to the DNA of creatures nearby. But I’m getting ahead of myself: The PCs first have to slog through 3 rooms that are thoroughly linear: A slide must be passed, then a couple of deep one hybrids and a shoggoth await the PCs. And this is where I uttered an exasperated “Really?” – the shoggoth is strong, but still utterly pitiful regarding its power, considering that it’s a frickin’ shoggoth. And, in a grating deviation from DCC-design aesthetics, it can’t be bypassed, has no means to make it easier, nothing to reward smart players. Oh, and running past it is no option. The PCs first have to brute-force the second frickin’ dial-door to proceed. Instead of rewarding capable players, the module suggests wounding the shoggoth. sigh Why does it have to be a frickin’ shoggoth?

In the halls beyond that, the PCs can interrupt the hibernation of elder thing scientists and pick them off one by one. Yes, this is about as fun and as redundant as it sounds. The hibernation cells, btw., have a mechanism that locks and floods them. And the module gets drowning rules as established in DCC wrong. How do you prevent drowning? Well, obviously with Reflex saves, right? Because agility totally translates to how long you can hold your breath? WTF. How this one could slip past editors is puzzling to me; it contradicts how drowning works.

The finale has the PCs fight more elder things, fiddle with a console whose functionality they can’t deduce, and thus release one of three tanks – either mad Deep Ones (including the princess),a dead star-spawn, or an alive one. It’s totally luck based what happens. The module has a couple of promising notes for elder thing tech and living glowbug critters…but guess what elder thing tech does? They’re spells in a can. I kid you not. Oh, and good luck if the psi-spider’s not with the PCs – it can snap the deep one corruption out of the princess. Te star spawn of Cthulhu has btw. 14 hit points, and mundane weapons do minimal damage. It’s wounded by experimentation, but still. That’s just sad.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not on the level I’ve come to expect from Goodman Games. On a formal level, the module is tight, but rules-sequence and integrity is pretty compromised in a couple of cases, and there are instances of spells not properly formatted. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports nice b/w-artworks. Puzzling: The module’s pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment! The cartography per se is gorgeous, but the wreck’s map has no grid, and we do not get player-friendly versions of the maps.

Are you really, really tired of the Cthulhu-mythos? Do you want to complete the process by which it’ll lose any form of coolness and horror? Do you want to complete the transformation of the creatures into just another type of critter to be slaughtered by your local MurderHobo Inc.? Then this is the module for you! After this, neither shoggoths, nor star-spawn, will ever elicit more than a yawn from your group. It’s also simply badly-designed, blending bad Cthulhu-scenario design with obvious issues with the DCC-rules and design aesthetics that I love so much. There is no rewarding the players for smart playing here – it’s all up to chance and trial and error, ostensibly justified by mythos being weird in the time-honored tradition of bad Cthulhu-scenarios. John Hook’s “Shadow under Devil’s Reef” is not even remotely creepy and feels like a paint-by-the-numbers standard pulp-Cthulhu scenario of the weakest sort, lacking the Appendix N-flavor and heavy metal aesthetics that I expected to see.

You see, I didn’t even expect this to be creepy in any shape, way or form. It’s not, by the way. Not at all. However, it fails miserably at making the mythos-creatures feel cool, it fails at blending DCC’s heavy metal-influenced aesthetic of fighting against…THINGS with the mythos. It also fails as a spoof. It’s not funny, nor badass. Know who does the whole angle better? Pretty much everyone. For horror, Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu are better. For (dark) fantasy adventuring, Paizo and Kobold Press have vastly superior modules, and Fat Goblin Games’ "Shadows over Vathak" setting actually manages to craft a fantasy world that is heavily-influenced by mythos aesthetics without being cliché and redundant. Oh, and if you really want heavy metal aesthetics and weirdness, I’d strongly suggest taking a look at LotFP’s Carcosa or Venger Satanis’ “The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence”. Heck, Venger’s early work, while a bit rough, successfully manages to blend the “OMG, how cool is that”-metal aesthetics, horror and even funny bits and create a cohesive whole. I’d take his flawed, but inspiring “Liberation of the Demon Slayer” over this bore-fest any day of the week.

This sounds harsh, but I was really, really pissed off by this module, by how utterly uninspired and flawed it is. I honestly feet like I wasted my money with it. In stark contrast to the previous Halloween adventures, this is not a dip, but a free-fall regarding quality. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, mainly due to Goodman Games’ high production values, and while I briefly contemplated going 1 star due to the lack of bookmarks and player-friendly maps, I will round up due to in dubio pro reo.

Only buy this if you’re a completionist. If you’re willing to convert modules, there are vastly superior offerings pretty much everywhere.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Halloween Module: Shadow Under Devil's Reef
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Dungeon Crawl Classics 2016 Halloween Module: The Sinister Sutures of the Sempstress
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/31/2018 05:03:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second Halloween adventure for DCC clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 of a page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look! It should be noted that this adventure is laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this.

This review was requested and sponsored by one of my patreons.

Unlike the previous Halloween-module “They Served Brandolyn Red”, this one begins at the lofty level of 6. It is strongly suggested to have a well-rounded group of characters in order to survive this one. The module comes with plenty of read-aloud text and provides some guidance for conversations.

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 theme of Erblast, i.e. a form of inherited sin that is passed down through the generation, is a potent theme, and one that can have serious repercussions ina fantasy context. Turns out that, unbeknown to the PCs, some ancestors of theirs during the millennia have vanquished the eponymous Sempstress, an entity of pure horror. Said entity has trailed their bloodlines throughout the aeons…and now it’s time for the PCs to pay for the “sins” of their ancestors. And there is nowhere to hide.

Seriously. The module begins with the scene on the cover, where horrible amalgamations of flesh, stitched together in a grotesque para-life, shamble impossibly, from wardrobes, from drawers…any enclosed space, to attack. Hopefully surviving the assault by the horrific things, the PCs can investigate the respective furniture…and they will be able to enter drawers, for example – even if they’re too large to fit them. Closing the drawers sees the PCs transported to a nightmare realm of pulsing, stitched together planar fragments, bloated flesh…

Okay, we have to talk about an obvious inspiration here: the dungeon the PCs explore, the prison/fortress of the mighty Sempstress, is nothing short of a genius riff on Silent Hill’s Otherworld. Instead of aesthetics based on metal, rust and flesh, mirroring the dystopian industrial complex and related visions, this module instead takes a step back and basically transports the Otherworld concept one step back through time, tapping into cultural anxieties of stitched together corpses and the like. A strong Frankenstein angle, a realization of church-propaganda horror-scenarios, comes alive within this place, all while retaining the central leitmotif of fear of the flesh, of disfigurement, of bodily integrity.

Breaching the skin of the pulsing, organic and disgusting foyer, the first room of the “House of Tattered Remains”, drives that home from the get-go, with bodily fluids congealing into a twisted, disgusting thing. Quoting Tuzun Thune, windows to elsewhere may be found…and the monsters are so disturbing, they might as well have been taken from Silent Hill, Rule of Rose, or similar games: We have spiders puppeteering corpse-marionettes on an endless-seeming staircase. We have timekeepers that ask for a moment – and if the PCs answer in the affirmative, that’s just what they steal from their minds! Heck, these nasty buggers may strip an unlucky PC of all experience, reverting them to their humble beginnings! This is, difficulty-wise, one of the most brutal DCC-modules I’ve GMed, but it, like all good, hard modules, earns it: The monsters all have a trick (or two) that rewards clever players over high rolls: Observation, smarts and the like are just as important as PC-brawn here: The timekeepers, for example, have a pretty hefty Achilles’ heel; the spider-like spuppeteer-spiders can be noticed, etc. Traversing a bloody ballroom, finding a room where the PCs are threatened by regression to an infantile state, avoiding the sempstress’s scrying devices…the exploration of this nightmarish realm is just fantastic and evocative.

It should also be noted that a gigantic, horrid blob may well be the impetus for a TPK – the “Custodian of Parts”, erstwhile servant of the Sempstress, may actually be the best chance the PCs have to find something that will give them a much-needed angle against the deadly creature – provided the PCs play their cards right and don’t antagonize the…thing. They will need to find “The Bright” – which is somewhere in vats of eyeballs, slimy mucus, marrow…and here, the module becomes meta in an amazing way: It suggests peeled grapes, etc., the creation of an old-school “Halloween Feelbox”…and to have the players grasp for “The Bright”, hidden somewhere in the icky things. So turn of the lights, and have fun!

Did I mention that the metaphysical house’s attic contains animated flesh-dresses, gruesome perversions of the bridal gowns many of us have seen up there, collecting dust? And did I mention that the Sempstress is really tough, that players that don’t play their cards right, will die horribly in the finale? If they get to life that far.

You see, there is one more aspect about this module that I love: Do you know the kid-horror-movie Caroline? How it can be twisted and disturbing for parents and adults? That’s the final blending of ideas here: The transformative aspect. Instead of a mundane sanity engine, or using the corruption-engine, exploration of the house and fighting its denizens will put the PCs eye to eye with the Sempstress’s horrible power of “Unraveling” – they find tiny stitch-marks on their skin; clothing and body fuse, skin becomes translucent, one eye become a doll’s eye or a button-eye…their very presence herein not only subverts their sanity, it actually corrupts their bodily integrity, even when it comes to being…well, organic. And yes, many of these effects do have mechanical effects. When their bodily stability has been reduced to zero, they unravel, like a piece of abruptly unwoven cloth…for a fate that an enterprising judge will make most fearsome indeed!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, bordering on top-notch. The rules-language is super-tight, and I noticed no undue accumulation of glitches of a formal nature. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard with amazing and creepy artworks. The 2 pages of maps are beautiful, b/w,…and lack player-friendly versions, which is a big downside as far as I’m concerned. Pity that players won’t get to see it. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks – they could be more detailed.

Michael Curtis delivers in frickin’ spades in this adventure. The breakdown of physical borders and rules, courtesy of the nature of the dungeon, also provides a genius justification and carte blanche for an eclectic series of encounters that still makes sense; the different leitmotifs and themes blend together in an ingenious way that is greater than the sum of its parts: While the comparison to Silent Hill remains most apt in my book, it should be noted that the module has its own identity: Its blending of early/pre-industrial revolution anxieties, childhood fears and Otherworld (-ly) horror runs a the thin tightrope with panache aplomb, generating a vision that is slick, twisted and frankly glorious. I honestly wished that this had been a massive boxed set depicting a much larger realm, but one may dream of horrific realms for DCC, right? This adventure, in spite of its copious Appendix N/Sword & Sorcery quotes, which clearly designate it as having the DCC-style, actually achieves the goal of being a HORROR-module. It is so good, so resounding a success in its atmosphere and flavor, that I’d recommend it sans hesitation as a module that is amazing not only for DCC, but also for other rule-sets. The adventure deserves being experienced and played – in spite of its brevity and the lack of player-friendly maps, this gets 5 stars + seal of approval. It’s one of the best horror modules I’ve analyzed in the last couple of years. If you enjoy horror, don’t miss this short, but oh-so-sweet gold nugget of grimey, sewn-together, gory madness!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics 2016 Halloween Module: The Sinister Sutures of the Sempstress
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #39: DM Screen and Adventure
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/29/2018 09:42:56

This is a first-level adventure, but as usual the challenges facing the party are not trivial. A bunch of bandits calling themselves the Broken Knives has been purloining treasures from local temples and have made their base in a ruined castle. A party cleric may serve one of the burgled temples, or the party may just see notices advertising for adventurers to raid the bandits in the local town (Grozny if you're using the default world of Aereth).

The information for the DM includes an encounter list, scaling information, location notes and extensive background mainly centred on Castle Churo, explaining why it is in such a battered state and what effects result from that... it used to belong to a magician called Churo, whose experiments with high-powered magic were ultimately his downfall. This was some thirty years ago. Meanwhile, in town there are five religions competing for power and worshippers, and these recently started suffering losses of valuable relics from their temples...

Rather unusually for this series, the adventure itself begins with the party being brought before the town's religious council, which has representatives of all five religions - three of which have been robbed. The thefts were carried out by subterranean tunnels into their storerooms and although the tunnels collapsed behind the thieves, they appear to lead back to Castle Churo. After they are briefed on the missing items, they might want to gather rumours before heading on up there. And that's where the real fun starts...

Room descriptions paint the picture well, and there's a lot going on wherever the party should venture. This is all backed up with details of monsters/NPCs, their stats and likely reactions to party intrusions, and notes of what's available to loot if the party is victorious. A few handouts are included to help players understand what their characters can see. There are some innovative traps and effects for the party to navigate... and this is before they venture into the catacombs beneath the castle ruins. The adventure is wound up neatly with several alternative outcomes, with the possibility of further action if the fellow behind the thefts evades them, or goes undetected.

It's a coherent adventure, with every encounter having a good reason to be where it is. A neat way for a new adventuring party to start building their reputations.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #39: DM Screen and Adventure
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Dungeon Crawl Classics 2015 Halloween Module: They Served Brandolyn Red
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/26/2018 13:49:01

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This DCC-module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 22 pages of content, laid out for 6‘‘ by 9‘‘ (A5), which means that you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper if you need to conserve paper.

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience, and this being October, I felt that a review of a Halloween adventure would be suitable for the month.

This adventure is designed for 8 – 14 0-level characters and acts as a loosely horror-themed funnel adventure. The pdf recommends at least 2 elven PCs to participate in the game, since the plot does hinge partially on a tale of cultural interaction.

Now, structurally, the adventure is not the most lethal funnel for DCC I have seen, but it is nothing to sneeze at; this is deadly. We do get aptly-written read-aloud text that, regarding the quality of the prose, manages to evoke a concise atmosphere. The cartography, as usual for Goodman Games, is extraordinary, with great artworks supporting the atmosphere evoked by the adventure. The map looks like a fold-out map to me, as it spans two pages, which is neat indeed – I don’t own the physical copy, so I can’t comment on the execution in print. The maps sport hexes and no scale per se, so if that is a kind of thing that irks you, be aware of that. Unfortunately, there is no key-less version of the amazing map for VTT-use or handout use, which means that many players won’t get to see it. They will get to see the cool one-page artwork of the final boss fight, though…

Theme-wise, this is a gothic adventure in theme, with a weird twist added on top; if you enjoy, for example, LotFP’s adventures, then this will suit your tastes. Really cool would be that we get no less than 4 pages of handouts: One shows an artistic representation of a key-encounter’s area; one contains 4 heraldic crests associated with different families – the PCs are assumed to belong to one of these families, and each family comes with a mini-sheet of rumors and background knowledge that will influence certain key events of the module. There also is an artistic representation of the family trees of the respective families. The elven family among these would be the Whitegrass family, and the module takes place as an elven maid, Nala Whitegrass, is marrying Hort Leddy, a mere human – and not everyone is happy.

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? So, the PCs are all guests at the splendid wedding of Nala and Hort, when, just as they sip wine during the ceremony, horror strikes: Ant men erupt from theearth and proceed to dismember and decapitate the guests of the wedding, and indeed, the groom is decapitated as well…and the combat will need to be survived without most equipment – it’s a celebration, after all! So yeah, from the get-go, acid spitting ant-men make for one weird challenge.

This is also a good place to note that the module, for the most part, manages to perfectly execute the notion of player-skill trumping PC-skill, of careful observation being rewarded. The acidic spittle of the ant-men has a certain smell; and when they die, the smell changes. This actually is a point that will allow observant players to avoid a nasty trap. As the ant-men are defeated, the PCs will notice that the groom’s head’s been taken; the race-based hostility between Whitegrass and Leddy family seems to escalate, and blows are exchanged before the grief-stricken family-members intervene. The bride, meanwhile, is understandably nearly catatonic.

Lotrin Whitegrass, the bride’s father, will proceed to attempt to hire the PCs: The family Vintner, one of the families that the PCs will belong to, had once bested and sealed away ant-men akin to those faced, so the trail of the massacre will have the PCs first explore the Vintner vineyard and find the truth here; in an interesting aside that only perceptive PCs will pick up on, Lotrin also promises to reward the PCs for any remains the PCs might find – not just those of Hort. The family connections add motivation and a theme of erblast, i.e. sins passed down through the generations, to the PCs.

The main leitmotif for the vineyard, as the PCs explore it, is one of dilapidation, decay and corruption: The areas have the PCs encounter somewhat magical grapes, and here, we have a potential TPK creature that may be encountered: There is a plant monster that has sleeping gas, and while the DC is low, it is, at 0th level, a deadly for; same goes for the zombigator that may be found in the depths of an irrigation pool turned putrid mire. The read-aloud text deserves special accolades throughout these encounter areas, as the atmosphere evoked is indeed exceptional.

Now careful exploration of the vineyard may well be of tantamount importance to survive the aforementioned, hand-out supplemented encounter: During their trip through the place, particularly thorough PCs can find love-letters that are entwined with the history of the maiden named Brandolyn, you did lend her name to the eponymous vintage.

You see, the Vintner’s family’s crown achievement would be this phenomenal wine, and it was the last truly stellar one they produced; it is named after the deceased lady of one Gage Vintner…and the letters provide a grisly clue that not all may have been right and proper regarding her untimely demise. Indeed, depending on the family in question, some PCs will encounter flashes of insight, compulsions to blurt forth sentences and the like, telling the tale. You see, Brandolyn and Lotrin Whitegrass the elf had an extra-marital affair, and when Gage found out about it, he killed her in a most heinous of ways: Her skull was crushed in the winery, and indeed, the key-encounter of this whole region would be said winery, where the blood and grief of Bradolyn has suffused the much-cherished, nigh magical wine.

Said wine constitutes an important treasure during the adventure, and the chaotic (table provided) effects of drinking it can provide further clues regarding this story; once the connection between the wine and Brandolyn are unearthed, the PCs may use it to buy themselves a brief respite in what must be called the most brutal of the encounters within: Entering the winery triggers the ghost of Brandolyn to fire tools at the PCs, attempt to possess them to exert a price of vengeance paid in blood by executing Vintners, etc. – the encounter is brutal, suitably so, and indeed, Brandolyn may not be slain or put to rest, unless the PCs solve what’s happened to poor Brandolyn.

A trip to the Vintner family mausoleum on the grounds can be helpful there and provide clues that more is afoot: By examining the respective sarcophagi, the PCs will encounter their first gourd puppet, an undead that is animated by a huge swarm of animated seedlings, which will proceed to attack after the host body having been slain. Bear in mind that we’re still talking 0-level, so that should indeed be a horrific challenge!

Anyways, sooner or later the PCs will have to venture underground, into ant-man territory. PCs remembering the olfactory clues from their previous encounters with ant-men (or those that are lucky!) will have a chance to avoid some primitive traps on the way down. It should be mentioned that there is more than one way to get down here, which is a plus; indeed, it is nice to see this brief adventure attempt to be as nonlinear as possible. Instead of finding an organized resistance of ant-men, the PCs will find a new horror of sorts. While ant-men indeed will try to stop the PCs, they are also likely to encounter the ant-man queen, who has been decapitated just as the groom – ant-men are trying, in a futile and pitiful gesture, to mend their headless queen’s gaping wound with pupae. The things have, ultimately, been enslaved as well; they are, ultimately victims as the humanoids above.

Within the depths of the ant-man lair, the PCs will find the true culprit. Mad and obsessed Frezzo, the groom’s brother-in-law, stands next to a mound of flesh and heads – Samhain, the corpse harvester, an entity drawing sustenance and power from the corpses accumulated. It is this entity disturbing the Vintner’s place, which promptly animated the murderer Gage as another gourd puppet, which constitutes the final boss of this adventure. This also represents one of the few points of criticism I have here, namely that, while the flavor-text notes the possibility for Samhain to animate more un-dead, the like is not represented mechanically. From a structural point of view, rewarding PCs that dealt particularly well with Brandolyn’s ghost would have also made this deadly encounter somewhat more rewarding.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, though not as tight as usual for Goodman Games – there are a few instances of attribute-references that have not been capitalized properly, for example. Similarly, the wine cellar region does have a bit of crucial information that should be included in the read-aloud text for PCs to make proper observations not formatted as such; a minor nitpick, but a point that may have an unprepared judge stumble nonetheless. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard and the interior artwork consists of original b/w pieces and is thematically-consistent. The cartography, as usual, is excellent, though the lack of player-friendly versions does constitute a comfort detriment. The pdf comes with basic bookmakrs per region, but not per keyed encounter.

Stephen Newton’s “They Served Brandolyn Red” is a nice weird fantasy/horror-ish module that manages to aptly combine dark fantasy and gothic trappings in a blending that is rewarding to run and experience. The angle of families influencing exposition and how the world interacts with the PCs is a great one, and the module manages to cram A TON of material into its pages; it is a surprisingly concise exercise in adventure writing. (Remember: 6’’ by 9’’/A5-pages, instead of the usual standard-sizes…) That being said, the module feels, to me, like a caged beast in a way: The brevity of the adventure can be considered to be its one true detriment; the family angle focuses more on two of the families than the others, and the tragedy to be unearthed by the PCs, ultimately, is practically jammed down their throats.

Even if you go full-blown murder-hobo mode, there’s a good chance you’ll get to understand everything; that may be a feature or a bug, depending on how you look at it, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the author would have done with 10 more pages to flesh out the mystery, to have the players unearth (and perhaps experience) the past in flashes, piece together what has actually happened…you get what I mean. The trappings of an investigation, of a mystery are here, but they ultimately are sacrificed to the page-count and the demands of the concise narrative.

Don’t get me wrong: This is a great module in pretty much every way, and a capable judge could easily expand the module with a few flourishes here and there to make it truly phenomenal. To make that abundantly clear: I am NOT disappointed by this adventure in any way, shape or form! This is a super-cool, creepy, in-your-face adventure! I just couldn’t help but feel like there was a smarter, more complex adventure here, waiting to be unearthed, one wherein the destinies of the families are more closely entwined with secrets and treachery.

When all’s said and done, then this module should be considered to be a resounding success and a great choice for a starter adventure, or for a Halloween scenario. It is fun and rewarding, deadly, and even if you don’t play DCC, this may well be worth checking out – converting it is super-easy and does not require familiarity with DCC’s more fiddly bits.

As a whole, this represents one fine adventure, and as such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics 2015 Halloween Module: They Served Brandolyn Red
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #38: Escape from the Forest of Lanterns
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/25/2018 07:59:32

Be careful what you read! You often find magic tomes that have an effect on those that read them, but here's a truly evil effect... being dumped into a bizarre adventure based on children's fairy stories. A bit trite even if you like them, pure torture if you don't.

The DM is provided with a synopsis of the adventure, a list of encounters, scaling information, and some plot hooks to get the party trapped... er, I mean, involved in the adventure. As the adventure involves a visit to a demiplane, you can run it from anywhere although there is a suggestion for a start-point if you are using the default world of Aereth. This demiplane consists of a massive dark forest and there's plenty of information to help you set the scene. It's not just the strange location, weird things happen to the party too - but there's full coverage on how to handle that as well. Turning them into children, perhaps... but SIX years of age sounds a bit young.

The adventure proper begins when the party examines what turns out to be an animated book of children's stories. It proves to be very chatty and friendly, and eventually asks if it may tell a story to the whole party when they are together - perhaps of an evening seated around a campfire or otherwise taking their ease. And so it tells the tale of The Warty Witch and the Forest of Lanterns, about two young children who got lost in said forest and defeated the Witch to escape. The book then suggests that it might be fun to see it all firsthand...

Needless to say, the Forest of Lanterns to which the party are transported (whether or not they think it might be 'fun') is darker and nastier than the storybook version. There are plenty of wandering monsters and set-piece encounters to keep the party 'entertained' and even those who will talk rather than fight are unfriendly.Indeed there's a nasty undercurrent through the entire adventure, with assorted creatures attempting to toy with the party, messing them about for their own amusement. Somewhere in the middle is the Witch's cottage (made out of gingerbread of course), which has two floors, a tower and a dungeon underneath.

The adventure should end with the defeat of the Witch and the discovery of a way to get home, but there are other options... even the dire one of continuing in similar vein with a series of such adventures - a couple are outlined and suggestions of other modules you could adapt are provided. Be sure your group actually like this sort of thing. It's well put together but the whole concept is one that they may find repellant. It's not for me... although I may be inspired by the magical book to create one that can transport a party to places I'd actually enjoy visiting!



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #38: Escape from the Forest of Lanterns
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #37: The Slithering Overlord
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/23/2018 08:18:59

This is a classic delve, sending the party deep underground to rescue hostages and loot treasure from marauding troglodytes, complete with a 'boss' encounter with the Slithering Overlord himself! (Or herself, it's a bit hard to tell...). The default version is that the party is hired by the Order of the Invincible Sun to go down there to kill monsters and loot their stuff, but alternative reasons are provided or you may come up with a good one of your own.

The DM's Notes include a synopsis of the adventure, an encounter list, scaling information, a note on where this adventure is set if you are using the Dungeon Crawl Classics default world of Aereth, the promised other hooks to get the party involved and an extensive background for the adventure. It appears that there's a lot going on in this particular underground domain, with the Slithering Overlord himself having been driven out of his original home and having taken refuge here, and rival species contesting space with his own followers. Oddly, the Order of the Invincible Sun is described as a paramilitary religious order, which rather begs the question as to why they don't take care of business for themselves rather than hiring a bunch of adventurers to do it for them.

The underground setting is made up of three distinct 'sub-dungeons' which the party can explore pretty much as they please. There are a lot of unmapped narrow corridors connecting them, they are uninhabited and it's up to you whether the party has to explore them or if you just tell them that after a few hours they reach... wherever it is you want them next. The monsters to be found here are all integrated into their locations, each has a clear reason to be precisely where they will be encountered - often with an ingenious backstory of their own, which the party may or may not find out. Its very existance makes them more believable, however. In flagrant disregard of stated Dungeon Crawl Classics policy, some of them are prepared to chat if the party doesn't attack them out of hand... this raises the adventure to new heights as the party can, if they wish, try to figure out what's going on rather than merely kill every creature they meet and steal their stuff. (Interestingly, this option is found in many of the adventures, but it's particularly noticeable here.) Needless to say, some encounters are out-and-out combat ones, with monsters that attack on sight!

The final area, where the Slithering Overlord lives, has some... unusual denizens, the flora and fauna alike should prove quite a surprise. The Overlord himself is presented as an utter 'Baddie', but you might want to treat him a little more sympathetically. Options for future adventure are provided based on whether or not the party defeats him, and provide scope for some interesting and unique plotlines if you so wish. As a 'dungeon delve' this is a particularly good one!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #37: The Slithering Overlord
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #36: Talons of the Horned King
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/22/2018 08:13:01

This arctic adventure sees the party helping a town that's beset by strange creatures who, it appears, have already made off with a local lordling. They'll have to travel through icy wastes and unravel a mystery around a druidic circle. What lurks beneath?

The DM is provided with a synopsis of the adventure, an encounter list, scaling information, a few ideas for getting the party involved, a note on treasure available, and a detailed background story. Provide your own warm socks! If you are using the default Dungeon Crawl Classics world of Aeryth, there's a note suggesting where to locate this adventure; if you are using your own campaign world find a reasonably isolated arctic area with a settlement nearby. It explains that the Talons of the Horned King is a mysterious and ancient structure mostly buried in the ice, with a 'crown' of metal spikes - the talons - on a vast depiction of a human face, or at least, that's what it looks like. Nobody knows who made it. A strange species of large hairy humanoids are said to live nearby but they are shy, gentle beasts rarely seen. Recently, after a shooting star was seen in the area, they have become more aggressive, attacking anyone they encounter with almost mindless ferocity... and then, for the DM's eyes only, the underlying truth is revealed.

The adventure proper begins with the party beginning their final approach to the Talons, facing a narrow twisty ravine they must traverse to get there. The wind and snow are fierce, and they'd better take precautions to stay warm (there are some notes on handling cold weather through game mechanics). Other perils await... and there's stuff to find that will help the party later on.

Then magic starts to behave oddly, and strange balls of blue energy can be seen floating around... and that's just the beginning of the strangeness that is to be found as the adventure progresses... and then the party finds its way underground and that's when things get downright weird!!!

Descriptions are detailed and evocative, backed up by a selection of player handouts to let the group 'see what you mean'. The whole adventure hangs very well, especially considering the more bizarre aspects, and there's a nice mix of brawling, problem-solving, trap-evasion and the odd conversation to keep the party entertained.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #36: Talons of the Horned King
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #35: Gazetteer of the Known Realms
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/19/2018 08:36:09

If you've been paying attention throughout the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure modules so far, you might have noticed material providing background about where each one is set. It's generic enough that you can take an adventure and pick a suitable spot in your own campaign world, but coherent enough that you could have built one around them. Now you don't need to, because here's the World of Aereth to drop all existing (and future) Dungeon Crawl Classics into.

It starts off with a delightful 'foreword' detailing the discovery of this tome in the depths of a contemporary American library. How it got there we can only speculate: but it does add to the conceit that this world, this alternate reality, actually exists somewhere... And then we are off with a sweeping review of the Northlands, the Southlands and the Lostlands, complete with geographical features, celestial bodies, the seasons, and all manner of information. I know the foreword spoke of the battered and aged condition of the manuscript, but although atmospheric, the background makes the text rather hard to read. Persevere, though, the text is replete with snippets of information that makes the place come to life - places, festivals, events past and present, and more.

There is also a chapter on organisations, in particular those which spread beyond national boundaries, and one entitled Beyond the Known Realms that leads you into the wilder unexplored regions - excellent for those parties who wish to explore or even settle new places. There is a history of the Northlands that spans over three thousand years from antiquity to the present day. And this is just the Gazetteer. There's plenty more in the box!

There is an even more massive book for the DM. This contains an even more extensive history, a bestiary, notes on deities and other powers, NPCs galore, talk of 0-level characters, and a rather neat section taking the existing Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures and building them into more-or-less coherent campaign arcs. There's also an index of people, places, items and more that have appeared in all modules to date.

As if this wasn't enough, there are two completely new adventures - Halls of the Minotaur and The Thief Lord's Vault - to start you off. All-in-all, if you've ever thought that Dungeon Crawl Classics are fine as one-off adventures, but need a context: well, now you have one.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #35: Gazetteer of the Known Realms
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #34: Cage of Delirium
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/18/2018 08:56:13

Apparently there's a burnt-out old mansion to the south of town, about which there are all sorts of rumours, fuelled no doubt by the fact that it used to be a mental hospital. Who in their right mind would go near a place like that? The party, that's who, given sufficient incentive.

The background material for the DM includes a detailed backstory explaining just what's going on there, a list of monsters, scaling information and more... and if you pick up the print version there's a CD with appropriate mood music keyed to different locations and events in the adventure. If you have bought the PDF version, you don't get this but are provided with a link to where you can pick up a copy. If you like background music to your games, this is a neat opportunity to have something specifically tailored to it - there are detailed instructions as to what should be played when.

If you haven't guessed yet, this is a horror story. The hooks provided to get the party involved bear that out, ranging from a dying member of staff scared that their spirit might be drawn back there to merchants and town officials concerned about a malign influence on the town. Like any good haunting, the way to deal with the spooks here is to find out how to grant them rest, so there's a fair bit of thought involved as well as combat. The backstory is quite extensive and, rather neatly, opportunities are provided for the DM to share it with the party by means of visions. It's a massive place to explore, and there's a lot to find (and fight) - given the large number of undead clerics and other pious characters are recommended for your party.... and how do you fancy being accosted by an animated straitjacket that just wants to give you a hug?"

Descriptions are evocative, and there's a wide variety of encounters to keep the party on their toes. Some of the ghosts are even prepared to talk rather than fight, and may have useful information to impart. The adventure ends when all the spirits are enabled to rest, and the remants of the mansion fall into even more ruin. A good spooky adventure.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #34: Cage of Delirium
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Complete Guide to Liches 3.5 edition
by John F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/14/2018 12:25:40

I find this product to be useful time and time again. it is in fact the most intelligent treatment I. have seen for liches in a third-party rpg supplsupplement. Especially fascinating to me has always been the concept of a war lich. That is a character concept I can really get my head around. Essentially a medieval fantasy Darth Maul.

I highly recommend this product.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Complete Guide to Liches 3.5 edition
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #33: Belly of the Great Beast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/12/2018 09:11:16

This is a very high level adventure (21-24 level!) which takes the party into space to stop a dastardly plan to steal the collective knowledge of the world from a passing Great Beast that floats through the universe just watching what's going on. It's got hitchhikers, though, and these are the ones causing the trouble.

It all begins when the party encounters the Cult of the Forgotten Word, who are the villains in question. They are seeking to steal a particular tome... and the party has the chance not only to save that book, but to put an end to their schemes altogether, if they dare! The DM's background explains a lot more of what is going on, as well as providing a monster list, scaling information and several excellent ways to get the party involved in the first place. These primarily involve getting them to a place called Withers somewhere in your campaign world, as the sight of the cultists floating down from space to terrorise the local academics should be enough to engage their interest!

There's a section explaining how space travel works for the purposes of this adventure - it's all pretty descriptive and hand-waved. The cultists use Cosmic Eggs - translucent globes that just travel between the Great Beast and a nearby planet, without much need to worry how they do it. Going to the Great Beast is easy, they just do it. Coming back provides plenty of opportunities to land the party other than where they intended... even up to sending them to the wrong planet entirely if you're that cruel!

The adventure begins when the party arrives in Withers and find the town's Westphalen School under attack. Enjoy the chaos as they explore, rescuing frightened academics and students... and even encountering one student who's a "Demonology hacker" and has summoned up a devil he cannot control in an attempt to defend his school!

And this is all before the party use a Cosmic Egg or other device to get themselves to the Great Beast. Therein even more epic excitement awaits. As you'd imagine, a dungeon carved out of the living flesh of a giant immortal spacefaring creature is not your ordinary delve; but there are monsters to fight and traps to evade a-plenty, and a lot else to do besides and strange beings to meet.

There's no clear resolution to the adventure. Perhaps the party will seek to release the Great Beast from the cult's control. They'll still need to find their way home, of course. Or they might decide to kick out the cultists and keep it for themselves... Whatever they decide, this is Adventure on an epic scale, perhaps a fitting climax to an entire campaign. Or it might be a one-off, as there are some pre-generated characters provided, if you want to try a really high-level game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #33: Belly of the Great Beast
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #32: The Golden Palace of Zahadran
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/11/2018 08:32:12

This is a high-level adventure involving the exploits of a party that is poking around a desert investigating the depredations of a blue dragon when the sand collapses under their feet depositing them into a long-buried palace. There's plenty to explore as they try to find their way back out.

It's all a dastardly plot, of course and all is explained for the DM in the introductory notes. Whether or not the party will ever find who took them for suckers is another matter... The DM is also provided with a list of monsters, scaling information, and some ideas on how to get the party involved in the adventure. Pick whichever seems most appropriate to the party you have, and run with it.

This adventure is billed as a classic variation on the 'exploration that leads to an unfolding history, which leads to rising action, which leads to the epic confrontation that saves or dooms the day' module... so no high stakes there. By the end the party ought to feel a true sense of accomplishment, or be plunged into despair and wondering where to hide as the case might be. There's a lot of background to set everything into context, and you'll have to decide what and how you want to share information with the party. Have fun, it literally goes back to the dawn of time (and is useful for mining for the ancient history of your campaign world if you haven't got much yet).

Depending on the way you get the party involved, there are different starting points for the adventure; but whichever you use eventually they are out in the desert getting that sinking feeling as the ground gives way beneath their feet and deposits them into the wonders below. As they prowl the halls there are plenty of opportunities to reveal bits of the backstory through artwork - complete with pictures to hand to your players to show them what their characters see - and other snippets. Sometimes the party will have to make appropriate checks to obtain the information, other bits are more clear to anyone who looks. There's plenty to look at as they explore, and some really unusual beings to fight, not to mention traps to avoid and puzzles to solve... and then there are the twisty little passages UNDER the palace.

The actual exploration is entertaining in itself, then add in trying to get back out while preventing ancient evils from coming with you and you have an adventure that verges on the epic.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #32: The Golden Palace of Zahadran
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #31: The Transmuter's Last Touch
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/05/2018 08:02:14

Even for a low-level party of 1st-2nd level characters, a bunch of kobolds shouldn't be much of a problem, right? This module sets out to warn adventurers not to underestimate their enemies... the hard way (of course!).

It's recommended that the party has met ordinary run-of-the-mill kobolds before, then when they find these catacombs in the base of a mountain they will assume that the resident kobold tribe is more of the same. A few suggestions are provided for getting them there, or they might merely be travelling and notice the entrance. Like all good adventurers, they wander in and... The introductory notes for the DM include scaling information, an adventure overview, a list of wandering monsters and loads of background, as well as a new game mechanic: augmetation. This is a temporary magical changes to a creature, caused by residual enchantments left by a previous very-powerful resident and triggered by moving into an affected area, lasting only whilst the creature is there. For this was once the home of a powerful wizard called Verdivis, who conducted all manner of magical experiments here. Needless to say, these augmentations can also affect party members - but unlike the kobolds, who are use to them, they'll have to figure out what the augmentation is and how to utilise it - probably under combat conditions!

It all makes for an interesting delve, with a backstory that holds together well - although, as always, the real challenge is to share the actual underlying story, rather than just its effects, with the party. Everything is described cearly with notes on the inhabitants of each area and their likely (violent) response to intruders. There are also some pictures to show the players what their characters see. Treasure is fairly small, but interesting, and there's some stuff looted during caravan raids conducted by the kobolds to be had as well. There is the potential for further adventures should the kobold chieftain escape - and if he sees things going against him, that's what he will try to do!

Overall it is a good, thoughtful low-level adventure that should challenge the party and keep them on their toes, one that is nicely embedded into the growing history of a campaign world if you make full use of the background information.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #31: The Transmuter's Last Touch
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Fifth Edition Fantasy #2: The Fey Sisters' Fate
by Jaime O. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/18/2018 12:11:56

This was a great starting adventure both for my mostly-new-to-5e players, and for me as a brand new DM. Interesting use of fey creatures, and establishes a small town that works well as a base for low level characters.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fifth Edition Fantasy #2: The Fey Sisters' Fate
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