Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/30/tabletop-review-tomb-of-curses-dungeon-crawl-classics/
Tomb of Curses is the first release from a new company called Dragon’s Horde Publisher. Like a lot of indie companies, Dragon’s Horde, like Purple Duck Games, Purple Sorcerer Games, Brave Halfling Publishing and Cognition Pressworks, have chosen to create products for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics line. Tomb of Curses is the longest adventure published for Dungeon Crawl Classics so far, weighing in at forty-three pages, and it also carries the biggest price tag for a DCC adventure to boot. As you might have guessed from the name, Tomb of Curses was heavily influenced by Gary Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors for First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. While obviously nowhere near the level of quality of Tomb of Horrors, Tomb of Curses does give DCC a very long adventure to be played out over several sessions, which is something the system simply hasn’t had to this point. Whether or not that was actually needed is up to your individual tastes and needs as a gamer, but for now, this is your longest adventure for the system.
I’m torn on Tomb of Curses, because while I think the story is easily the worst yet for a DCC published adventure (and there have been some doozies), the actual PLAYING of the adventure is quite fun and far more reminiscent of the early D&D experience than even some Goodman Games adventures. Now, while I enjoy very story heavy games like Call of Cthulhu and Vampire: The Masquerade, if you go out to pick up an adventure for a game that has DUNGEON CRAWL in the title and expect something grandiose in plot and characterization, then the fault is yours. DCC is roll playing over role playing and primarily hack and slash over talking heads. Sure, the story behind Tomb of Curses is a bit insipid, terribly convoluted, at times nonsensical and even contradictory, but it sets up an adventure with insidiously cruel puzzles and a guarantee that much of the party is going to die horribly, if not all of them. This is one of those rare adventures where a TPK (Total Party Kill) will not only be expected going into it, but a portion of the fun is seeing who dies and how.
So the actual story of Tomb of Curses is twofold. The first is the history of the Tomb itself. Once upon a time, there was a wizard who was an inter-dimensional polygamist. Yes, he had multiple wives, but they were from different species on different worlds in different realities. He was mostly a dick to them, killing one, betraying another and so on, so it’s not really a surprise when he is killed by them in a fiendish revenge plot. Except he didn’t die or something. It’s not quite clear. He “fell” but then cursed his wives into the inter-dimensional prison known as the Tomb of Curses, even the wife he really loved. Which doesn’t make any sense, but none of the story makes any sense. One wife was killed by the mage early on, and she somehow was part of the plot to kill him later on, even though she was still quite dead and neither undead nor raised. Yet another wife willingly entered the inescapable prison, yet is also listed as roaming around the multiverse looking for the husband. There’s also the groan worthy decision to have a wife from our world as well – which is NEVER a good idea whenever someone tries it. Basically, the entire back story is just word vomit that really needed an editor for logic and continuity’s sake.
It gets weirder when you realize the adventure actually begins at the climax of a completely different adventure. Players are started off with the “boss fight” of an adventure where PCs have been looking for the Everglass of Uth’Pentar, a mystical artifact. Well, the artifact is actually cursed, and it throws all the PCs into the very location this adventure is named after. There is only one way out of the prison, and that’s solving the overarching set of puzzles within it. The PCs, along with a little help from the wizard’s eight wives, do their best to survive and escape the Tomb of Curses. I do think the setup where the players are thrust into the climax of an adventure they have never actually played is an inspired one, but also something that can go disastrously wrong in the hands of an inexperienced DM or a more casual gaming crew. So the adventure’s start can be a bit wonky, but at the same time, I can’t think of too many tabletop gamers who are going to start off with DCC as their first ever RPG, so the chance of this becoming a train wreck from the opening is very slim indeed.
As you might expect from a Tomb of Horrors homage, Tomb of Curses has a lot of instant death with no escape/saving throw/etc traps within its walls. Some players new to this system might cry foul at this, but it’s neither unheard of nor unexpected for DCC. The adventure is for six to ten characters between Levels 6-8, which is pretty high level for Dungeon Crawl Classics. These traps range from rapid aging to a hallway of no return. The Tomb is far more puzzle oriented than most DCC adventures, but hack and slash fans shouldn’t worry – there is a lot of combat in Tomb of Curses. There are also some attempts at humour, like a demon with a lowbrow sense of humour, spouting poop and fart jokes constantly, or one of the wives being a giant cosmic catfish, but they tend to fall flat on their face, unlike the more comedic approach we sometimes see from Purple Sorcerer DCC adventurers. I really enjoyed the various puzzles, although some DMs may have to help the players, as the answers aren’t necessarily obvious and, as mentioned, there are a ton of no escape instant death traps littered through the experience, so giving the players a bone when they are heading in the right direction isn’t a bad idea considering the adventure.
I do want to say a word or three about the art. For the most part, I love what’s here. The pictures within the adventure really breathe some life into the experience and, because players actually need to see the pieces ala handouts to get through some of the puzzles, the quality had to be top notch or they would do more harm than good. I can’t say enough good things about the art. The only two negative comments I have are in regards to the cover page (which is merely mediocre) and the map. Maps are a big part of the draw for DCC adventurers. In this case, there is nothing wrong with the art or the map itself. It’s just that the tomb is so big, and so the one page map feels very constrained and cropped down. It also feels a lot harder to follow, and the sheer size of the map combined with the artistic renditions on the page make it feel almost too busy to look at properly. Again, these are the only two issues with the art as the rest is truly fantastic.
So, let’s give Tomb of Curses a thumbs in the middle. I liked playing/running the adventure, but the storyline running through it is pretty terrible. Combat is well balanced and the puzzles are interesting, but at times the adventure does feel a bit too “DM vs PCs” which may turn people off from the experience. I can’t deny I’ve experienced far better adventurers for the DCC line, but I’ve also experienced a lot worse, and for a first adventure out of the gate, Dragon’s Horde Publishing gave us an interesting, albeit flawed, experience. People running Dungeon Crawl Classics for their friends might want to read through this first before buying, which means borrowing from a friend or reading the brief preview up at DriveThruRPG.com/RPGNOW.com. For the price and inherent flaws in the product, I can’t recommend Tomb of Curses, but I can’t give it a thumbs down or a negative review either. It’s a very mixed bag, and mileage may vary. If you’re looking for a longer adventure for DCC and you have players that don’t care how bad the plot is as long as they are rolling dice and killing monsters, Tomb of Curses might be worth the higher than average price tag.