Wednesday 31 January 2018

The Old God's Return

The Old God's Return is a level 1 adventure by Michael Curtis and the 2013 Holiday Module by Goodman Games. Art is by Doug Kovacs (including cover and cartography) and Stefan Poag. The publisher is Goodman Games.

This is a fantastic adventure, which fits well with the Frozen North setting described in the expanded printing of Frozen in Time. The adventure-specific inclusion of sovereign fire lends the proceedings a unique resource that the players must manage...and mismanagement can have dire consequences!

I ran this shortly after its release, and the group had a great time. The adventure is not long - it can easily be run in a four-hour convention slot - and the holiday themes don't overwhelm play at the table. If you ran this in July, the players might not even get the Yuletide references for what they are, so don't mistake this adventure as a "seasonal-only" excursion. The events, challenges, and outcomes are all serious indeed.

Nothing in The Old God's Return is played for laughs. It is quite possible for the PCs to "win" and then plunge to their deaths, and it was only quick thinking that prevented such an outcome at my table.

Although describes as "an excellent one-shot to play during the winter holidays", I would recommend weaving this adventure into an ongoing campaign. There is, quite simply, too much good material here not to revisit it. The Old God, Tjaptar, then becomes one of those fearful things haunting the boreal forests of the North. His minions are definitely worth including in future adventures in regions where the Hyperboreans once held sway.

My group also really enjoyed the imagery in adventure, some of which is more than slightly creepy (trees containing the essence of stolen children, I'm looking at you). Seriously, while this adventure is seasonal, it is not "simply" seasonal. Overlook it at your peril.

A shivering plague. 

Knives glinting in the moonlight. 

A frigid mountain drifting in the sky. 

These ominous events attend the return of an evil long forgotten by Man. On the night of the winter solstice, when the world is balanced on a knife’s edge in the battle between fire and ice, a slumbering deity awakes. Now, only those heroes chosen as the champions of the Lord of Flickering Flames can end this growing threat before it reclaims its former malevolence and reminds the world why the old forests are places to be feared…

A Note About Holiday Modules: In December of 2012, I released an unofficial, free, holiday adventure called The Thing in the Chimney. In 2013, I wrote a sequel, The Nexus of Yule, and the two adventures were packaged together as The Perils of Cinder Claws and released by Purple Duck Games. I would like to think that there is some connection between my release in 2012 and Goodman Games' decision to start a series of holiday-themed releases in 2013, but I don't know for certain if that is the case. In any event, they could hardly have devised a stronger opening to a line which now includes not only the Winter Solstice but also Halloween!

Get It Here!

Monday 22 January 2018

Null Singularity

Null Singularity is a bleak adventure written by Steve Bean and inspired by James MacGeorge’s Black Sun Deathcrawl. Images are fair use or public domain. The publisher is Steve Bean Games.

The author gives "Thanks to Lakobos Eight Fourteen who showed me a new view of The Void" and dedicates the product to "Therizo Nineteen-Sixty-Eight who has tethered herself to me, searching for the Way Past, even though there isn’t any". The product also contains XenoExegesis by James MacGeorge, author of Black Sun Deathcrawl.

In this adventure you play a Voidant who encounters the Null Singularity and the Void. In this nihlitic adventure, there is no winning. There is only drawing out losing as long as you can, and with as much style as you can.

If you've read my notes on Black Sun Deathcrawl, all the same applies here. Use it as a one-shot. Use it as a future that the PCs then have to try to avoid. Use it as a vision of hell. Regardless of how you choose to use it, it is a brilliant piece of writing.

Life sought to flee from The Singularity.

Unprepared, it flung itself out into The Void,
a place anathema to life.

But that is nothing
when compared to the Null Singularity.

Life learned F/Utility. Matter is more empty than not,
making the Null the greater part of matter, putting it
EveryWhere and EveryWhen.

NULL SINGULARITY is an existential, space-horror one-shot compatible with the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. NULL SINGULARITY has players play a unique class, "Voidants:" the nameless crew of a primitive colony ship playing a doomed game of hide-and-seek with the dark, cosmological agent of the universe's destruction. NULL SINGULARITY plays in about 4 hours, including character creation, making it an excellent choice for periodic gaming groups and convention events.

Get It Here!

Nowhere City Nights

Nowhere City Nights was written by Julian Bernick. Art is by Spencer Amundsen and Jack Kotz. Firearms rules use some rules from Crawl! Fanzine no. 8: Firearms! and Crawling Under a Broken Moon #1. The publisher is Order of the Quill.

Billed as "A Modern Noir Campaign Setting for DCC RPG Characters" or "Modern Occult Noir Based on DCC RPG", Nowhere City Nights offers a modern supernatural take on Dungeon Crawl Classics that uses Noir movies and related pulps (I presume) for its aesthetic. An Appendix Noir would be a useful inclusion in any expansion to the product!

"Nowhere City Nights is a roleplaying game based on the core rules in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. (DCC RPG). In Nowhere City, the players take the roles of Gutter Knights, Free Agents or Sorcerers as they scheme and plot and kill in the dim, noir-ish underground of a decadent and declining modern city."

Let's go for a visit...

Welcome to Nowhere!: This provides a brief intro to Nowhere City, and its relationship to Dungeon Crawl Classics.

"Nowhere City had a better name once, but no one calls it that any more. It's part of a bigger nation, or it once was, but those old power structures are mostly forgotten. Local corporate overlords rule the day and violent gangsters rule the night. The police are an army that serves both of those masters, depending on the neighborhood and the night and the sack of cash. The working people of Nowhere City pray that they can live their lives in peace and anonymity, without attracting the attention of the city's masters' or worse."

One of the nice things about this intro is that your city - Yes! Yours! - may very well be Nowhere City. And, if it isn't, why not?

That is actually quite brilliant!

Character Classes in Nowhere City: "Sorcerer cults have turned their back on what’s left of civilization in order to serve the extra-dimensional Veiled Ones. Cadres of Gutter Knights are dedicated to exterminating those cultists at any cost. And the slick, unscrupulous Free Agents will go anywhere, kill anyone, take anything… for a price."

PCs in Nowhere City will be Gutter Knights, Sorcerers, or Free Agents. These are, respectively, modified Warriors, Wizards, and Thieves.

Gutter Knights are strict orders of Warriors dedicated to the destruction of Sorcerers. They are sworn to poverty and humility, but all of them have a Vice (which is determined by random roll).

Sorcerers "are the problem that must be solved. The use of magic is predicated on alliances with the Veiled Ones. These powers are so evil that the greatest warriors in the world ignore the mundane corruption and perversity of Nowhere City in order to destroy Sorcerers." Although Sorcerers have pledged their very souls to Chaos, each has a Virtue (determined by random roll).

Free Agents are Thieves with some modern thieving skills, such as Computer Hacking, Demolition Setup, and Infiltration/Bluffing. Every Free Agent has a Vendetta which is, as you probably guessed, determined by random roll.

Gutter Knights are always Lawful, Sorcerers are always Chaotic, and Free Agents are always Neutral. Each gets XP only for completing specific goals of their class. The odds are that a party will contain each class, with their conflicting goals, XP requirements, Vices, Virtues, and Vendettas. Again, brilliant!

Weapons and Gear in Nowhere City: Rules for modern weapons, armor, sainted steel, and other gear.  Crawl! #8 and Crawling Under A Broken Moon #1 are specifically called out.

Backgrounds in Nowhere City: Occupations. It is noted that the "traditional DCC RPG Funnel may not make quite as much sense in a grim, semi-civilized setting such as Nowhere City", which is somewhat ironic, as the first official supporting product for Nowhere City Nights is a 0-level funnel adventure.

Vehicle Chases: For races and chases, with Criticals, Fumbles, and Mishaps. Elegant and fun mechanics.

Nowhere City for the Judge: Notes on establishing the proper atmosphere, a description of the occult Shadow Conflict, notes on the organizational structures of each class, and notes on running a Nowhere City campaign.

Organizations and Employers in Nowhere City: Chapters of the Gutter Knights and descriptions of Sorcerer Cults. These are the primary players in the Shadow Conflict. Sanctum is described for Free Agents. A description of the corporate overlords and violent gangsters would have been welcome here. Considerations of religion are left to the judge.

A Key to the City: A brief overview of Nowhere City, which allows enough space for each judge to make his own Nowhere City. Several important neighborhoods are described. with an eye towards gamable material. "Plot Hooks for the Wild, Wild Waste" provides a full 20 seeds for possible adventures.

Notable Locations of Nowhere City: Some of the places your PCs may visit or avoid. Each has a Location Name, Neighborhood, Address, Description, and Security listing.

Enemies and Opponents of Nowhere City: Provides stat blocks for the people and monsters one might meet in Nowhere City. Well, some of them at least. In a Dungeon Crawl Classics game, there are always monsters you didn't expect, but this will definitely get you started!

Appendix 1: New Patrons: Nowhere City Nights provides three complete new patrons, which may be used outside of the Nowhere City setting if the judge desires. They are:

  • The Weeper: He waits at the end of time, howling back through reality at his servants. He hates all that has ever existed because he knows the ultimate end. Reality is his plaything. Human destiny is a joke and he knows the punchline. But instead of laughing, he weeps.
  • Scutigera: The many-limbed predator that scurries in the stars. As the centipede hunts and kills in the house of man, so does the Hunter with a Thousand Arms haunt the outer reaches, looking for prey. It’s said that in the aeons of the past, before the gods of man even roamed the earth, the Hunter with a Thousand Arms ruled the night and his constellation devoured those of other entities. Then his stars disappeared and now the Hunter waits to reemerge when the time comes for his servants to overrun the Earth and begin a new age of predatory tyranny.
  • Annihilation: The being.. or concept .. known as Annihilation haunts the world from the place outside the realm of matter. His servants remove themselves from the haunts of men and take to the wildernesses, the sewers, the alleys, the abandoned warehouses and landfills. To join his legions, you must erase yourself; give up your identity and your life in his service. But no new identity is given. Those annihilated hope to disappear completely, to eradicate even their own memories, all in the service of their inscrutable senselessness. They work toward the final end of All, the victory of unthinking inevitable Annihilation.

Appendix 2: Random Events and Encounters in Nowhere City: A table of sixteen events.

Appendix 3: Table of Random Street Names: A d20 table containing 20 street names and 20 avenue or boulevard names.

Get It Here!

Monday 15 January 2018

Night of the Mad Kobold

WK0: Night of the Mad Kobold was written by “Weird Dave” Olson. Art is by Timothy Wilsie (cover), Gary Dupuis, and Rick Hershey. Cartography is by “Weird Dave” Olson. The publisher is Cut to the Chase Games.

This is a 0-level funnel, which is the first adventure in the "Wrath of the Kobolds" series of adventures. Like other adventures by Cut to the Chase Games, Night of the Mad Kobold was written for multiple game engines, including Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry, and 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. I believe that this was the first release from the Cut to the Chase Fantasy Renaissance Adventure Module Kickstarter.

When presenting an adventure in multiple system formats, one has to take care to avoid making one system clearly superior to the others. This is not unique to this adventure or this product; for example, I believe this was an issue with Maiden Voyage of the Colossus from Purple Duck Games.

The upshot of this is that there is none of the strangeness one comes to expect from a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure. These really are the monsters you know! Worse, the adventure centers around the gnomes of Cresthill without providing any means to generate gnome PCs! The adventure further postulates that kobolds are able to travel around the town without any real difficulty, which seems strange for a settlement with a large population of gnomes and humans. This is further exacerbated by sections of the text referring to gnome PCs I.e., "Bren Kapesh gives up what he knows to any strong voice (or a pretty face) if there is not a gnome in the party."

There are other indications that the writer simply doesn't "get" Dungeon Crawl Classics at this point. The Guard asks the PCs to take care of this problem because...well, obviously a bunch of gongfarmers and chicken butchers need to save the day. Every 0-level funnel needs a call to action that makes regular people either rise to the level of adventurer, or fall crushed beneath the tide of events. This one simply doesn't pass the muster - especially since the NPC quest giver has probably already given the PCs the brush off.

Other problems include mention of "Characters proficient in Nature" and "a small pouch of precious gems worth 100 gold as a modest way of saying thanks".

Oh, and statistics are not given in the text proper, but only at the end of the adventure. When dealing with the long statblocks of some versions of Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, this is understandable. With Dungeon Crawl Classics, I just find this annoying. There is nothing wrong with having an appendix of compiled statistics. They should also appear in the adventure as needed, though, in my opinion.

None of these problems is insurmountable, and the main plotline of the adventure should provide interesting opportunities for play. Here are my recommended fixes:

  • Run it as a 1st level adventure. The PCs have just appeared in Cresthill, and at least they look tough enough for the Guard to approach them for help.
  • There is no guard. There is only the Watch, and the Watch is comprised of citizens. The PCs are those citizens. Various livestock and trade goods may be left at home, depending.
  • Gnomes can be generated using the gnome class by Yves Larochelle in Crawl Fanzine #6.
  • If you are not planning on running the entirety of Wrath of the Kobolds, consider making the villains human. Among other effects, this will make the theme of racism stronger - it is more than the generic animosity between gnomes and kobolds!
  • Rinklo is described as "a scrappy, tough opponent", but has AC 13 and 6 hp "each". You may wish to adjust this upward.

It is always enjoyable to hear how another judge approaches gaming material, and the "Weird Dave’s Notebook" sections are therefore appreciated. So too is the rather unique adventure set-up...I cannot say that I've run into a fantasy role-playing game scenario about a mad bomber before. The adventure is creative; it just needs some help to make it feel like DCC.

The town of Cresthill enjoys a favorable location along the winding Graywand River. Trade is good, and the prominent gnomes of House Kelver run most of the businesses to the prosperity of the people. Now, however, a dangerous lunatic—a kobold from the nearby Talon Hills—has decided the gnomes of House Kelver need to be a taught a fiery lesson, and only a band of heroes can stop his plot.

Get It Here!

Tuesday 9 January 2018

New Year's Evil

Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl: New Year's Evil is a 2nd level DCC Xcrawl adventure written by Brendan LaSalle with art by Stefan Poag (including cover and cartography), Chris Arneson, and Cliff Kurowski. The publisher is Goodman Games. Additional Material was provided by George “Loki” Williams and Dr. Lori M. King. This adventure is dedicated to Joseph Leonard Auditore (January 17, 1981 - September 26, 2017).

Free pregenerated characters for this adventure are available as a pdf here.

As a resident of Toronto, it was nice to see an Xcrawl adventure set here, although the author declined to come north to run it (the New Year's of its release, at least!). While the city hosting the Extreme Dungeon Crawl event can affect the flavor of a particular outing, there is nothing particular to Toronto (or Canada) in this particular adventure. There are no animated golems shaped like the CN Tower or the SkyDome to bedevil the PCs. Of course, Canada is part of the North American Empire in the Xcrawl universe, and there is a Duke of Toronto.

I am not going to spoil the surprises of this scenario, save to say that the machinations of the Greco-Roman gods worshiped by the North American Empire come into play in a relatively big way.

In his non-Xcrawl DCC work, Brendan LaSalle seems to favor an epic scope where Big Things Happen. This is easy to see in adventures like Hole in the Sky and Neon Knights. It would seem that the Xcrawl universe is Brendan LaSalle working on a smaller scale, but, while the dungeons are limited in scope, the setting is not. The idea that the gods work through their champions, even in the world of live death sports, is an interesting one. The notes on how the party is feted by notables makes them major players in their world, even if the focus of play is on the "athletic competition" itself.

One nice thing in this adventure is a section entitled "Xcrawl in Flux": "Xcrawl Classics is coming! The final version will be a full, stand-alone game using DCC RPG mechanics, with new classes, spells, rules, and excitement! In the meantime, here are some new rules to enhance your game. Note that these are in flux, and as playtesting continues some of these might change when the final version of the game comes out."

Current rules for the Mojo Pool, Grandstanding, and Fame are provided. These are rules I asked for when doing a conversion of Xcrawl: Dungeonbattle Brooklyn to Dungeon Crawl Classics. Mojo has become a little more complicated than the simplified conversion of Dungeonbattle Brooklyn, and seems to owe something to the Fleeting Luck mechanics of DCC Lankhmar! It is perhaps notable that Michael Curtis, among others, receives special thanks in the credits.

Get ready for Xcrawl, the live-on-pay-per-view death sport RPG, now powered by the unstoppably old-school Dungeon Crawl Classics rules! And this holiday season, Xcrawl is breaking open a bottle of over-the-top dungeon crawl insanity, and serving it up for some New Year’s Evil!

Strange things are afoot in Toronto! The spirit of the New Year is driving the Gods to drink, whipping the fans into a frenzy, and inspiring the staff to start the party before the team even makes it to the green room! Can a low-level squad, faced with shady jousters, wet jesters, hell pugs, and cubical zombies – not to mention poetry, puzzles, and traps galore – survive to ring in the New Year? And will the sponsors still pick up the tab now that the dungeon has gone mad?

Start the countdown! Nunc est bacchandum atque Xcrawl ludendum!

Get It Here!

Friday 5 January 2018

Neon Knights

DCC #94: Neon Knights, is a 3rd level adventure written by Brendan LaSalle with art by Doug Kovacs (including cover and cartography), Friedrich Haas, Cliff Kurowski, William McAusland, and Chad Sergesketter. The Publisher is Goodman Games. This book is dedicated to Paul Suda, an actor and writer working on the Xcrawl movie currently in development.

Disclosure: I have a playtest credit on this product. Also, the author sent me a signed copy.

I was lucky enough to meet Brendan LaSalle at Nexus Game Fair in 2016. This was not actually an accident, because I decided to see what conventions I might be able to attend during a trip to Wisconsin to visit family members. I was, quite specifically, looking for somewhere I could get into a DCC game, and I recognized Brendan LaSalle from his work with Goodman Games. In fact, by that time I had appeared in the DCC RPG/Xcrawl Free RPG Day 2013 offering from Goodman Games with him, and converted two of his Xcrawl adventures to DCC mechanics: Dungeonbattle Brooklyn and BostonCrawl!

The upshot of this was that, not only did I get to be a playtester for Neon Knights, but I got to generally pal around with one of the most generous, outgoing, and gonzo judges I have ever met.

Neon Knights is, of course, inspired by Black Sabbath, as is Hole in the Sky. As written, Neon Knights links directly to the Purple Planet from Peril on the Purple Planet, but this connection can easily be altered by the judge to allow the adventure to bring the PCs elsewhere.

Brendan LaSalle's DCC work is a sort of an energetic high fantasy extravaganza. I don't mean high fantasy as being Tolkien-esque, but rather dealing with epic themes that cross the planes of existence. Although Michael Moorcock is not a direct influence to this adventure (in any way that I can tell), those who like Moorcock's work are likely to find resonance here.

Ten thousand flawless killers surround the city. Utterly silent in battle and in death, they seem unconquerable. They mean to choke the life out of the age-old city and leave it an empty ruin. 

The city calls upon its heroes to defeat this unnatural menace. The heroes gather to ponder the question: how do you defeat an impregnable foe? 

And then a wizard from a far-off world whisks the heroes away to fight battle of a very different sort, leaving them with a strange neon pink glow around their eyes…

Get It Here!

Wednesday 3 January 2018

Nebin Pendlebrook's Perilous Pantry

Nebin Pendlebrook's Perilous Pantry is a zero-level funnel by Mark Bishop. Art is by Mark Bishop (including cartography) and Jon Marr. The publisher is Purple Sorcerer Games.

Disclosure: I am not related in any way to Mark Bishop that I know of.

What can I say about this product? It is a real gem of a funnel, which can be played with a lighthearted style that makes it suitable for even young players. It need not be played that way, though, and there are encounters within that can be described as horrific, grisly, or as existential dark comedy if the judge and players desire.

My absolute favorite encounter occurs right at the beginning, setting a tone that can be both grim and absurd as soon as the first door is opened. I wish I had written this one!

When I ran this adventure for my home crew, the result was nearly a TPK, as the players were afraid to release the potential spare PCs they encountered. This is not a fault of the way the adventure is set is more likely bad memories of The Arwich Grinder.

I have no desire to spoil any part of this adventure for anyone. For those of you looking for potential convention-slot funnels, this will fit the bill. It can easily be played in a four-hour time slot.

The tiny village of Bitterweed Barrow is unaccustomed to mysterious tunnels, missing halflings, or the need for brave adventurers, but now it has all three! Can a band of gong-farmers and shoe-cobblers muster the courage to descend into the darkness and confront the terror that waits beyond Nebin Pendlebrook’s unexpectedly perilous pantry?

Get It Here!