Sunday, 31 July 2016

Chaos Rising

DCC #89: Chaos Rising is written by Daniel J. Bishop, Jobe Bittman, Michael Curtis, Terry Olson, and Harley Stroh, and published by Goodman Games. This adventure was part of the 4th Printing kickstarter for the core rules, and compiles seven hard-to-obtain previously publishes adventures:
  • Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box
  • The Imperishable Sorceress
  • Glipkerio’s Gambit
  • The Tower Out of Time
  • The Jeweler That Dealt in Stardust
  • The Undulating Corruption
  • The Infernal Crucible of Sezrekan the Mad
At the time of this writing, I have not received contributor copy of this compilation, although I do own all of these adventures in their initial appearances.

When I have this in my hands, I will update this entry.

(To be clear, this isn't the fault of Goodman Games; I suggested that they wait until they had other materials to send, like the items releasing at GenCon 2016, to save postage.)

The Chained Coffin

DCC #83, The Chained Coffin, by Michael Curtis, is available both as a stand-alone module, and as an amazing boxed set. I was lucky enough to be given an (uncredited) chance to playtest this adventure, and it went very, very well.

I have already written about this adventure here, and my comments still stand. In addition, I will point out that The Chained Coffin Companion contains most of the creatures one would otherwise wish statted up from Manly Wade Wellman's stories. It is extremely well done.

I have since run Sour Spring Hollow, both in real time and via play-by-post. As a 0-level funnel, this is poses a rather tough riddle which can easily lead to a TPK. Completely fitting, in my humble opinion, but some players may complain....I wonder why? It is the easiest thing in the world to make some new 0-level characters and either try another funnel or, if the judge so decides, try again. Perhaps a generation later....

I have still not had the chance to run Steve Bean's companion adventure, The Rat King's River of Death. As much as I enjoyed reading this adventure, I have to question its inclusion in an adventure that ended up in an otherwise wonderfully themed boxed set. Mind you, it is not the adventure I am questioning, but how it plays into the fantasy Appalachian theme.

A whispered voice calls from a coffin bound in chains, urging the heroes into the depths of the Shudder Mountains, a place rife with superstition and forlorn secrets. In the shadowy, pine-grown valleys of the Deep Hollows lurk mysteries of a bygone age and a new evil emerging from the ruins of the past. The adventurers must plumb the mountains’ secluded reaches to root out this rising terror before its power comes to fruition. Standing in their path are cackling witches, subtle devils, lingering spirits, and a foul thing that moves in the night. Can the heroes appease that which lies within the Chained Coffin and thwart the dawn of a new and terrible age?

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Caves of the Kobold Queen

And now I turn with a sad heart to Caves of the Kobold Queen by "Weird Dave" Olson and published by Cut to the Chase Games. This adventure was part of a kickstarter campaign that includes Pathfinder, 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, and Swords & Wizardry versions, as well as the Dungeon Crawl Classics version.

This was probably a decent adventure for its original rule set, but the conversion to Dungeon Crawl Classics is lazy at best. From a town of 250 people offering a reward of 100 gp per adventurer (Cut to the Chase could have made this sp without having to make any other change) to a calls for social interaction and Charisma checks to resolve role-playing (and DCC doesn't have Charisma as a stat), there is a lot the prospective judge will have to fix in order to use this adventure.

The town of Ormkirk (which is an excellent name, by the way) has a 6th level cleric. a 1-in-50,000 supra-mortal accomplishment in the DCC rules. Why not simply use the friar stats provided in the core rulebook? Why is this ulta-powerful NPC there? The obvious answer is that the person who did the conversion didn't "get" Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Monsters are ho-hum, with none of the Make Monsters Mysterious suggestions given by the core rules, beyond a table of random physical traits for kobolds.

At one point, an entire dungeon level is resolved by skill checks. It is entirely possible to create a non-mapped space in DCC that needs to be resolved by player cunning and PC skill - Harley Stroh did this extremely well in both Peril on the Purple Planet and The Lost City of Barako. In Caves of the Kobold Queen, a chart of area descriptions, as well as the chart of encounters, would have gone a long way to resolving this problem.

Also, while an appendix of statistics is a useful addition to an adventure, I hate it when the statblocks are not included for encounters in the adventure text. This makes sense in games like Pathfinder, where the stats would easily take up a full page, but it is inexcusable in Dungeon Crawl Classics.

With sufficient work, this could be a fun adventure, but the judge is warned that some work will be required:

(1) Examine all rewards, and alter where necessary. The adventure assumes magic items are standardized; this should not be true in Dungeon Crawl Classics.

(2) Make Monsters Mysterious! The adventure assumes that the townsfolk know what the kobolds are, but that doesn't mean that the PCs must. Still, if you want to use the full WK series, you might wish to assume that the kobolds are a roughly known quantity, and add some unexpected monsters to the Talon Hills. Also, the black bear in Area 6 of the Ambush Cave could be something far more interesting, even if you use the same statistics.

(3) Especially, devise an additional chart to describe areas of the middle level of the kobold caves. Consider using the dice chain instead of fiddly modifiers for the skill checks. The base die should be linked to occupation, so that dwarves and miners make the check with 1d20, for instance.

(4) If you are going to continue with the series, you will want a gnome class, such as the one in Crawl! fanzine #6. If you are not going to continue, you may wish to alter any mention of gnomes. Or not. Their language is listed in Appendix L, after all.

(5) If you wish to continue with the series, the death throes (curse) of the Kobold Queen are important. Don't skimp on them. In fact, I would say they are not enough.

(6) "Weird Dave" Olson tells you repeatedly that it is okay to fudge. I believe that the adventure will be better if you do not. As far as fudging the sacrifice timing goes, perhaps I missed the specified timing the judge might fudge. I would come up with a time table, based on when the PCs first reach the kobold caves, and then stick to it! If the PCs dawdle, the results are on them.

None of the foregoing is intended to prevent Cut to the Chase Games or "Weird Dave" Olson from continuing to create products for the Dungeon Crawl Classics game. I hope to see updated pdfs at some point, or additional adventures, which make better use of the Dungeon Crawl Classics rules. If updates occur, I will update this listing.

In the wild and rocky hills north of the town of Ormkirk, dangerous kobold raiding parties have been striking at travelers and townsfolk alike for several weeks, stealing them away under cover of night from out of their homes. Desperate for help in rescuing the missing people, Ormkirk’s townmaster sent out a call for adventurers to hunt down the raiders and recover the kidnapped men.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Cast Tower of the Blood Moon Rises!

Cast Tower of the Blood Moon Rises!, written by Clint Bohaty and published by Order of the Quill, is an adventure designed for 2nd-3rd level Dungeon Crawl Classics characters. The art, by Jay Rasgorshek, is fantastic, and I would definitely be happy to see more of his work in future modules. The adventure is designed to play for two four-hour sessions, and so is not particularly useful as a convention module unless you can plan for two sessions with the same players.

Home play is, of course, another thing.

This adventure introduces Myassari, the patron stenographer of birth and decay, although no part of a patron write-up is included (Order of the Quill makes this available as a free pdf). The Dungeon Crawl Classics core rules talk about ritual magic, and this adventure gives us the example of the Foul Hand Ritual, which might be used to achieve immortality.

There is one element in the adventure, a personal relationship, which seems more fitting for a Pathfinder or 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure to me, where you might encounter a being with mixed ancestry. This seems stranger in a game where demi-humans are rarer, and more remarkable. Yet the Appendix N fiction that Dungeon Crawl Classics was based on contains the voices of some very different authors. Different takes on the same basic material should be celebrated, I think.

I haven’t had a chance to run this adventure yet, but I certainly enjoyed reading it. Expanding the Bloomingshroom Forest and its Mushroom Men could give the PCs a cool place to explore, and provide a backdrop to additional adventures of the Judge’s own devising.

Terror pillages the minds of those rooted within Hallowstone Valley; their Thane's daughter lost and their families tormented by the arrival of a murderous beast!  Before the villagers can be unbound from fear, adventurers brave enough to lend hand will find themselves plunging down a mysterious spiral of betrayal, half–truths, blood magic, and death — eventually gaining possession of an extraordinary artifact of an immortal but perilous nature.  What happened to Torene?  Who was Harfin Hazelnook?  And what has spawned the beast which now preys on the weak of Thanesmire?  The answers await only those courageous enough to seek them out!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The Carnival of the Damned

The Carnival of the Damned was written by David Baity and published by Purple Sorcerer Games.

Disclosure: I received a proofreading credit on this product.

This is, to put it quite simply, the meatiest 0-level funnel written for the Dungeon Crawl Classics system to date. Not only is there a main book, which is over 140 pages long, but there is a pdf containing printable images, paper miniatures, and patron spell printouts for Gelos, a complete patron written for the module.

According to the adventure,
Gelos is the god of laughter and madness; his followers are the insane and those who find humor in dark deeds. Gelos feeds on the emotional energy from laughter of all types, from the laughter of a child playing with a new pet to the twisted cackle of a murderer who finds sadistic glee in practicing his murderous art. The Laughing God often reaches out to those forgotten in dank dungeons and sanitariums, finding their chaos-filled souls a delicious feast for the taking through twisted bargains.

The prospective judge can easily see how this patron would be useful not only in the adventure presented, but in long-term campaign play.

The adventure takes place within a carnival. The carnival includes 28 fully described encounter locations, such as the Tattoo Parlor and the Bone Coaster, as well as 12 random encounters, all of which are appropriate to the setting. The judge may select attractions from those listed, and has the means to close off areas of the carnival, so that even players who have already experienced The Carnival of the Damned can enjoy a second – or even a third – play-through.

It should be noted that this is not simply a bunch of themed encounters slapped together – there is a compelling story behind the carnival’s appearance. By the time the PCs encounter the Black Jester, they may actual feel sympathy towards him.

A band of villagers are trapped in a mist-shrouded carnival in the dead of night, facing death at every turn. Can they survive twisted oddities like the corpse-filled Tunnel of Love and the dreaded Bone Coaster?

Filled with fantastic art, the Carnival of the Damned unleashes nightmares into any campaign, with encounters refined and polished by the anguished screams of hundreds of players at conventions like Dragon Con and Gary Con!

For judges, the adventure fills many needs: author David Baity has crafted over 30 encounters and dozens of random threats. There is enough content for days of tournament play, or judges can select a smaller collection of favorite dangers for a quick DCC funnel session. For sandbox-style play, judges can extract individual encounters whenever a twisted challenge is needed in any old school system. There's even a haunting backstory for those looking to integrate the adventure into an extended campaign.

And there’s clowns. Lots and lots of clowns. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Bride of the Black Manse

DCC #82: Bride of the Black Manse, written by Harley Stroh and published by Goodman Games, is a fantastic piece of work. In addition to the cover and cartography by the always stellar Doug Kovacs, there is interior art by Fritz Haas, Doug Kovacs, Peter Mullen, Russ Nicholson, and Stefan Poag. The Russ Nicholson art is so amazing that I photocopied it to use as visual handouts during the game.

Anyone familiar with the works of William Hope Hodgeson cannot help but feel his ghostly presence invoked by this adventure. The PCs investigate a haunted house in a gothic tour-de-force which manages to be genuinely creepy. Because the adventure is set up to play out in real time, and the haunted house changes as midnight approaches, the players soon gain a real sense of urgency. Fail to play that part as written, and you will do your players a real injustice.

When I ran this at home, I used the set-up wherein the party wizard, having been rejected initially by the archdevil Mammon, managed to survive after his luck ran out. Marked by the evil being, he was drawn eventually to the Black Manse, wherein the adventure unfolded. This adventure definitely got high marks at our table, although the party skirted a full understanding of the horrible choice illustrated on the adventure’s cover.

Centuries past, Lady Ilse ascended to scion of House Liis by trading the archdevil Mammon what he wanted most: her immortal soul – and a diabolical betrothal. The triumph proved hollow, for every year on the eve of her fell covenant, she was beset by visions of Mammon and her foul promise. Seeking to save herself, she was buried alive, swaddled in the holy symbols of a dozen divergent faiths. This desperate ploy held Mammon at bay for centuries…but a devil can afford to wait a very long time.

After hundreds of years, the last of the holy wards has fallen. The devil has come to collect his due. Tonight a storm crashes against the ancient manor house and forgotten spirits rise from the muck and mire. The fallen belfry tolls once more, announcing the hellish fete. As the adventurers arrive to explore the Black Manse, Mammon calls for his winsome bride. He will leave with a soul at the end of the night. The only question is: Whose?

To say that Bride of the Black Manse is worth the cover price is an understatement, but this module also includes Blood for the Serpent King, by Edgar D. Johnson.  This adventure is a short dungeon crawl in a steamy jungle, and sees the return of the Emerald Cobra from 3e version Dungeon Crawl Classics modules.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror

Some entries in this blog are longer than others, not because the products are necessarily better or more interesting, but because I know more about them, either through the creative process or through having run them. Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror, published by Purple Duck Games, is the first adventure that I wrote for the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game.

I have one or more items in every issue of Dragon Roots Magazine, including adventures written for 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, so Bone Hoard is not my first published rpg work. It is my first foray into DCC, though – published or not – and as such it holds a special place in my heart.

The genesis of Bone Hoard was as follows:  Mark Gedak, owner of Purple Duck Games, had some maps created by Kristian Richards. He asked on the Goodman Games forums if anyone was willing to try filling them in with DCC content, so as to create a Purple Duck DCC product line. I jumped at the chance, and received the Bone Hoard map to work with.

As would later occur with Stars in the Darkness, I was immediately struck with the way Kristian Richards “filled” the bottom of the chasms on the map. That wasn’t just darkness, so what was it? Thus, the nacreous fluid was born. Now I just had to decide what it did.

Decades of playing Dungeons & Dragons had created an expectation that monsters simply tried to kill you. Sure, they may do it in different ways, but mostly they just go after hit points. The result is that, barring level drain, there is little of the frission of horror that real monsters would create.  But what if the monster didn’t want to kill you? What could it do that would be far worse?

Everything in the adventure arose from that simple question.

Well, that and the advice about monster death throes…and making monsters unique….and unique magic items. The monster critical hit charts in DCC are also amazingly liberating, in terms of what monsters should be “allowed” to do.

I have run this adventure several times now. I have run it publicly and privately. I have had players who feared it enough to freak out when they entered a certain portion of Jon Marr’s A Gathering of the Marked, because they thought that they had entered the Bone Hoard. And I have watched a critical spell check result on flaming hands take out the hoardling before it had a chance to harm even a single PC.

Years later, and many more DCC adventures under my belt, Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror still holds a soft spot in my heart.


Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror can now be purchased in print!

Get It Here

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Bog God's Champion

The Bog God’s Champion is a free unofficial Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure by Paul Wolfe, published by Mystic Bull Games. It is available on the Mystic Bull Games website. The adventure makes use of the “Patron Monday” feature on the Mystic Bull blog, particularly (but not exclusively) the patron Myrddin.

There are a couple of small errors and omissions (Con instead of Stamina; specifics of Mohgd’s disease; what happens if you follow the corpse candles in the swamp?) but nothing that a good judge couldn’t handle.  Overall, what you get is an interesting, flavorful location-based adventure with a storyline that the PCs can engage in however they so desire. The adventure could easily be used in a Crawling Under a Broken Moon or Mutant Crawl Classics setting as well, if the judge were willing to do minimal work.

You could just as easily place it on a Venusian swamp in Crawljammer or some out-of-the-way portion of the Purple Planet.

Even if you didn’t want to run the adventure as written, it can easily be cannibalized for spare parts. The rules for weather and moving through the bog, the creatures, and the seven interesting magical items could become part of the judge’s toolkit with ease.

And, again, it is free.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Blades Against Death

Blades Against Death, by Harley Stroh for Goodman Games, is one of the real gems of the DCC Trove of Treasures.

This adventure, which takes place in the city of Punjar, gives PCs a chance to recover one of their own from the icy clutches of Death Himself. Not in a metaphorical sense, either. The adventure is written for 4th level PCs, who get to do fun things like infiltrate a cult and locate the Gates of the Underworld. While the adventure has the potential to be combat-heavy, even to the point of a TPK, it doesn’t have to be. The players are allowed to determine how they deal with what they encounter. Deciding to let "Bob" stay dead is a valid choice, but the bold and the lucky will risk more.

Although not part of the DCC Lankmar line, this adventure screams “Lankhmar!” as loudly as anything I have ever read, for any game system. That’s not a knock against Michael Curtis’ releases, either – it’s a testament to the solid virtues of this gem. Along with The Jeweler Who Dealt in Stardust, in the Goodman Games Free RPG Day 2012 module, and reprinted in DCC #89: Chaos Rising, anyone interested in running a game based on Fritz Leiber’s iconic Nehwon should have this adventure in their judge's toolkit.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Black Sun Deathcrawl

Black Sun Deathcrawl, written by James MacGeorge for Aleph Null Publishing, is the bleakest thing in the Dungeon Crawl Classics cornucopia at the time of this writing. Don't bother trying to out-bleak it. There is no point.

Man, I wish I had written this thing. Not because I am a nihilist, but because it is just so damn good. I don't even know how you could use it, except as a one-shot....unless you played through Black Sun Deathcrawl and then moved back in time to give your PCs a chance to avoid that bleak future.

Or maybe as a trip to another plane of existence.

Or maybe if you have a TPK, and you really do want to let your PCs wake up in hell. If you go with this option, make new Black Sun Deathcrawl characters, and then shuffle things up so that each player is playing someone else's PC.

This is both a setting and an adventure. The adventure is not set up to allow you to "win". It is what it is. If this isn't being run as a one-shot, you'll have to provide your own win conditions.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Black Powder, Black Magic Vol. 3

Disclaimer: I wrote a Varmints! entry for this volume.

Volume 3 of Black Powder, Black Magic is written by Carl Bussler and Eric Hoffman, with contributions by Daniel J. Bishop and Noah Stevens, and is published by Stormlord Publishing. This volume continues where the second one left off, providing the judge and players with useful stuff for a weird western setting.

First off, there is an article on Fumbles in Black Powder, Black Magic, which provides unique fumble tables for era-appropriate firearms.

The Kung Fu Monk allows players to run characters similar to David Carradine's character in 1972-75's Kung Fu. This is a pretty welcome addition, indeed!

Spellburning with Demon Ore is exactly what it sounds like, although a bit more complicated than the title implies.

Strange Loot is a list of 30 unusual items you might recover in the Weird West of the Dark Territories. It is followed by The Red Duke, a full patron write-up for the titular being first encountered in Volume 1.

It's Explosive: Black Powder is the first in a series of articles about explosives. In this case, black powder.

Next is Varmints! The Malcupine, which I wrote. This is sort of a malevolent cross between a large porcupine and a centaur, that can turn folks into their willing slaves. As with all Varmints! columns, there is both folklore and an adventure hook to help you use the critters. Noah Stevens' Black Tommy: A Really Hateful Engine, provides a second Varmint! which is nothing more or less than a demonic train engine that doesn't need to stay on the tracks. Folklore and an adventure hook make Black Tommy useful from the outset, though your players will hope to stick to the folklore until they get a bit stronger....

Finally, Noah Stevens supplies The Indigo Signalman's Lantern, one of the many strange items one might someday encounter in Brimstone or beyond.

If it seems to you that this is a full issue, that's because it is.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Black Powder, Black Magic Vol. 2

Black Power, Black Magic Volume 2 (by Eric Hoffman and Carl Bussler for Stormlord Publishing), takes over right where the first volume leaves off. You have 1st level characters and now you need to do something with them.

First off, there is an article on Armor and Armor Class in the Weird West of Brimstone and the Dark Territories. Characters in Westerns seldom wear armor, and the good people at Stormlord Publishing have taken this into account.

An article modifies each of the core human classes to fit into the setting. It also introduces the Gambler and the Prospector as new character classes. One interesting thing to note is that Cleric options include Catholic Priests and Protestant Preachers, as well as Native Shamans, bringing the option of using real spiritual beliefs into the game. This may delight you or not, depending upon how you view these sorts of things. Each has a separate list of Unholy Creatures.

John Henry is fully described as a patron, and is completely appropriate to the setting.

Finally, the Mine Wight is described in a new column, Varmints!, which describes creatures of the Dark Territories.  This column includes an adventure hook that could be used to give your newly leveled PCs a quick adventure near Brimstone.

Overall, the second installment of Black Powder, Black Magic gives you exactly what you need to continue your PCs from the first volume. 

Monday, 4 July 2016

Black Powder, Black Magic Vol. 1

Black Powder, Black Magic Volume 1 (a zine of six-guns and sorcery) was written by Carl Bussler and Eric Hoffman for Stormlord Publishing.  It is the first volume in a series bringing Weird Western fiction to the Dungeon Crawl Classics multiverse.  The authors wisely choose to make the first volume about introducing the setting – largely through introducing the zero-level schlubs who will seek their fortunes in Brimstone, and then giving them a chance to do so.

It should be noted that this is not the historical Wild West, but rather an altered version where the Dark Territories of the United States of America form the primary arena for play. A map on page 3 shows the relationship between the States, the Dark Territories, the Native Nations of the Navajo and the Lakota, and the Republic of California. The year is 1880.

The product is broken into several sections.


This is a nice bit of fiction that the judge can read aloud to the players, and which prompts several steps in the creation of newly-minted 0-level adventurers. For obvious reasons, it references later sections in the zine. It also adds a nice bit of flavor, bringing the setting to life in a way that no textbook-style entry could.

Timeline of Events

A listing of major events from the start of the California Gold Rush in 1848 to the Southern Dakota Railroad being completed in 1880. The events chosen are significant, but the details are left for the judge to fill in.

Starting at the Bottom

Rules for creating 0-level characters suitable for Brimstone and other regions in the Weird Western setting. This includes sections for appropriate Occupations, Tokens of the Past, Motivations for Heading West, and Common Names in Brimstone.  Tokens of the Past replace random equipment, and include items like a ticket to the Ford Theater and a human scalp. Motivations for Heading West give your starting PCs reasons for leaving the greener lands to the East. Common names prevent a gaggle of PCs called Conan or Elric taking away the feel of the setting. They are also an excellent resource for the judge when naming NPCs.

Rules for Firearms

You can hardly run a Western setting without rules for pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Volume 1 includes all of these, as well as cannons, Gatling guns, and even elephant guns. This section includes information about firearms manufacturers and a Mighty Deed of Arms for fanning the hammer of a revolver.

Demon Ore and Hellstones

In the Weird West of Brimstone, a ritual called The Soul Rending resulted in a new twist in the wars of Hell: A demon slain on its home plan explodes upward in a scatter of metal fragments that finds its way into mortal realms. Depending upon its quality, the ore can be used for various purposes, and all of it is valuable.

The Devil’s Cauldron

A level-0 funnel by Eric Hoffman, which is more than suitable for the setting. This also includes The Red Duke, a potential patron who is not developed in this volume.

A Little Black Book

A spot of fiction by Carl Bussler which takes place in 1878 (according to the Timeline of Events on page 3). This short bit of Weird Western fiction puts the events in The Devil’s Cauldron into their proper perspective…the judge may wish to read it aloud after the adventure is done. Since the issue starts with a pit of fiction in the form of the Introduction, this is a fitting conclusion to the first volume.

Get It Here