The Star Wound of Abaddon

This is a horror adventure, something Goodman Games should be well known for by now. Dark and blasphemous and morbid, like you would expect, and it was fun to play. There is player choice at the start, but then they are railroaded to a finale scene which was pretty freakin’ good (“buried alive”!) I always lament the lack of a map, but one isn’t needed with this lost-in-the-wasteland scenario. We were a little disappointed by all the non-lethal combat; Two fight scenes where you can’t die–blech! There’s no tension, and the PCs get less XP than other combat. But the adventure was well paced so that these minor scenes came first, then a big fight scene and locale to explore, and finally the climactic scene which was creepy and cool. Battling the level boss can make your PC’s head explode in instant death, or raise your Intelligence +1, depending on player dice rolls! So great!

My only real complaint about Star Wound of Abaddon is not unique to this module, but a problem I’ve had running other DCC modules: There’s too much to keep track of. DCC is rules-light, but many modules spice that up by adding new rules or twisting existing rules. This module had some cool twists on spellcasters (“cosmic perversions”!) but I kept forgetting to apply them. I need a computer to keep track of all the exceptions to the rules. Too many modifiers, too many special attacks, too many variations on the norm and the cool twists get lost in the flow of play. Once a precedent has been set, I just go with it. The “cosmic perversions” were definitely part of the attraction of this adventure, but it got lost in the shuffle of tracking combat for five players while helping the new guy, remember who is Bleeding Out and who has been affected by the wizard’s Enlarge spell… I’m not a computer, but I see how D&D inspired the computer game industry to automate all the rules. I imagine the author running the adventure many times with many different groups, but I just run it once and don’t have time to commit the text to memory.

So-so art and maps; Sufficient player choice; Minimal locations to explore; Definitely unique monsters to battle; Some good treasure to be found; I would give this one a thumbs up.

 

Through The Dragonwall

I don’t know what to think of Through The Dragonwall. It had some strong parts and some weak parts. The open-ended hex-crawl both works for me and doesn’t work at all. There was a good premise, but my characters don’t spend their Spellburn on Comprehend Languages, so the backstory was lost on them. There were some good foes to meet, like the creepy insect people living in the ceiling, the elf ladies on giant moths, the reptile men, and the cool-ass bone dragon level boss. The two parallel but opposite adventure locations were kinda cool, but there was no puzzle to solve, no treasure, and the encounters were mostly wandering monsters. The thing about sandboxes full of wandering monsters is that it’s just a hack-fest. Actually, my players love a hack-fest, but making everything random or unpredictable means it ends up being hack-fest only. The PCs had the option of parleying with many of the foes in this–It could have been a role-playing fest instead of a war game–but my guys never ask any of their foes why. Like, what’s with the cheesy chainmail bikini on the cover? Why didn’t they make Kovacs do the map for this one? Why include all the pre-adventure BS luring the PCs into the prison dimension? This one has some of the basics right (interesting location to explore, unique foes to battle) but skimps on others (it needs a better puzzle element to engage the PCs with the backstory).  The art and maps were average: There’s some good Mullen and Poag, but not enough that are usable as player handouts.  Overall, this adventure module was average for Goodman Games, but I’m pretty sure my players would say they enjoyed it just as much as the others.  So I don’t really know what to think.

The Croaking Fane & The Black Feather Blade

The Croaking Fane is a batrachian-themed adventure with lots of frogs, toads, amphibians, tadpoles, and of course lots of frogs, toads, batrachian amphibians and… did I mention the batrachian toads?  Lots of toads, the batrachian kind.  That’s all my players are going to remember, the toads.  Themed adventures are good, but this relies a bit heavily on the batrachian toads.  And my players have grown to expect puzzles in the Goodman Games adventures, but the toads failed to deliver any cerebral challenges, only batrachian challenges.  It had good Kovacs maps, a creepy locale to explore, and treasure for our heroes to find (too bad they missed the 1,000 gp toadstone!)  But the monsters were redundant and there weren’t many meaningful choices for the characters to make.  We spent most of our time in a single room fighting a mob of medium-sized giant frogs in a combat encounter that went on and on, an endless loop of being killed but revived in time.  Have you had this happen in your DCC game yet?  Six of our nine characters died in this encounter and were brought back from 0 hp by our clerics, the hardest working of the character classes.  Three characters died more than once, and the record goes to (drumroll please…) our cleric of Pelagia who died and was revived three *freaking* times in this one encounter.  Ugh.  This kind of combat scene is just exhausting.  Not to mention batrachian.

The Black Feather Blade wasn’t an adventure I was considering running, except our characters really need a magic weapon to kill a demon.  A quest for a magic sword…  As long as the sword is cool, the players won’t care if the adventure is average.  Something I love about the Dark Master’s approach is the magic items: They are unique and jam-packed with detailed personality.  The magic sword and the cursed item (I won’t spoil) were neat enough to make this adventure worthwhile, though the rest was a pedestrian B-list module from a Gen Con Program Guide.  The map was interesting enough and gave the characters some choices to make, the monsters were unique, and if you live to the end you can get a +2 two-handed sword, so my players were happy enough.  Over the course of this adventure, Rob’s 1st level dude got killed, again.  One side-effect of the extra-deadly adventures that Goodman Games specializes in is that players are always being sent back to 1st level.  So then why is the Dark Master publishing so many 4th level modules?  We’re never getting to 4th level.  Goodman Games needs to publish a ton more 1st level adventures, and a few more good 2nd levels would be nice too.  Please?  Thanks.

 

The Seventh Pit of Sezrekan & The Queen of Elfland’s Son

Don’t tell the Dark Master I said this, but the adventures published in the Gen Con program guides aren’t the best–It’s the Goodman Games B-list.  There might be an element or two in each one that I like, but that’s all.  The best of them is surely The Seventh Pit of Sezrekan.  The cover art by Peter Mullen and the cartography by Mark Allen are both superlative, and Harley Stroh has written an adventure with great potential.  Designed to be a tournament funnel, it is an unsurvivable death-pit, but it also has notes on running it as 3rd level, which is what I needed.  This being the 12th game of our campaign, our party is largely 3rd level and all starting to groan about how long it’s going to take to get to 190 XP.  Each character level requires more and more XP to reach, but the DCC experience system, based on relative danger, produces XP at a steady rate (Usually around 12 XP per game for us.)  You can go from 1st to 2nd in around four games, but going from 9th to 10th level is gonna take like 20 modules.  Get publishing!  I feel like there’s already a bottleneck of good adventures around 3rd level, so I was glad to have this one to work with, despite the sloppy editing and a few over-looked bits that needed detailing (Namely, the lift scene had insufficient realistic detail about the mechanics and operation of the lift, exactly what my players were going to be asking about).  The gaps in editing and detail got me thinking of other ways to improve the adventure, and I ended up personalizing this one much more than other Goodman Games modules, but the core didn’t budge under my creative license:  This adventure had a solid backbone of three creepy/cool environments to explore, some creepy/cool monster characters to deal with, and even magic treasure with lots of creepy/cool personality (I imagine it would be a blast with 0 level characters to suddenly be able to cast a fireball spell or turn into a dragon)!  My players were happy at the end of the game to finally get some treasure out of the stingy old Dark Master.  Don’t tell him I said that, either.

Our second game of the night, our spin-off campaign, was The Queen of Elfland’s Son.  As a high level cleric of the Church of Appendix N, I certainly recognize the Lord Dunsany inspiration here and have to say I hated the book The King of Elfland’s Daughter.  The plot wandered very slowly nowhere, and all the neat shit was in the first chapter only.  But there was some neat shit in there and Michael Curtis did a good job of translating it into a map-based dungeon.  It’s written so the PCs can don disguises and infiltrate, but my players only wanted to charge in and slay everyone.  Actually, first, my players turtled-up when the evil unicorn was killing their tribesmen in the opening scenes, and I had to convince them the faerie mound was not a death trap.  Then in the end, our wizard was slain by the prince of Elfland, so it was a death trap for them (Shit, now they are going to turtle-up again next time we play!)  The Seelie/Unseelie backstory was cool, but my players were too busy killing everyone in revenge instead of trying to understand *why* the unicorn was being evil.  Note the rare appearance of goblins in this module (a veritable endangered species in DCC RPG modules), and there is some treasure to be had here, though difficult to recover (my players bulldozed right over that too).  Ultimately, the first scene was the best part of this adventure–My players were unable to guess who or what was slaying their tribesmen with “a great spear.”  The rest of the adventure was written to accommodate a more complicated plot involving any elf characters you might have in your party (we had none).  The cover and cartography were nothing special, but it was still a memorable setting that has left me wondering what the sequel module will be able to add.  What did they say it was going to be called?  The Princess of Elfland’s Grandpa?  Something like that.

So… Our side campaign doesn’t have a wizard now.  Is that a problem?  Does a party even really need a wizard?  It seems to me that the two character classes a party requires are Warrior and Cleric, and everybody else is optional.  Warriors lead the combat, and clerics heal them.  Since wizards don’t have healing magic or much HP and AC for combat, they are not necessary.  And that also describes the Thief class.  In our main campaign, the party has been doing just fine without a thief.  Does a party even really need a thief?  They are only useful to pick locks and search for traps, but neither of these are essential to game play.  Locked doors are only a logistics issue, and logistics is the least fun part of D&D.  (No player has ever complained about DCC’s encumbrance system…)  And as long as I’m on a rant, I must say that I still hate traps.  Players hate traps, sure, because they’re not fun.  Defeating a trap doesn’t give you any sense of victory, only a sense of relief.  When a monster hits you and you take damage, at least you feel some agency, but a trap is always something that happens to you.  Like locked doors, traps are only a logistics issue that results in players saying “I check for traps” every ten seconds on a loop for the duration of every game.  Not the fun part of the game.  If the DM hates traps, and then traps mysteriously begin to disappear from maps…  Who would complain?  Nobody.  Except maybe the Thieves Guild, because without traps who needs Thieves?  A Wizard can climb a sheer surface with Spider Climb or Levitate spells.  A Wizard can pick a lock with Knock (or Ward Portal cast in reverse, as per p.106).  If I had to choose one, I’d rather have a Wizard in the party than a Thief.  Who’s with me?

Sour Spring Hollow & Doom of the Savage Kings

Sour Spring Hollow is a hidden gem tucked away in The Chained Coffin box set, a 0-level funnel with an Iron John meets Children of the Corn flavor.  It’s set up like a horror film with creepy cabins, lots of character death, and a little mystery to solve in order to stop the ghostly hillbillies from drinking everyone’s blood.  I thought it had the right mix of exploration, combat and logic puzzle, while hitting several of the Goodman Games buttons: the foes are non-stereotypical, there’s no real treasure to speak of, and it has a cool Doug Kovacs map that can double as a handout.  It was pretty short–only took us two or three hours to play–but I thought it was the best thing in The Chained Coffin.

After leveling up, we played Doom of the Savage Kings, getting about half way through before calling it a night.  Doom of the Savage Kings is nice as a first level intro since it starts with a little town populated with interesting NPCs that the characters can become involved with.  Our party, experienced gamers who were mostly new to DCC, chose to thwart the sacrifice of poor Morgan Haverson, thus becoming embroiled in town politics by promising the Jarl to deal with the hound problem themselves.  It was the most natural hook I have seen written into any Goodman Games module.  Unlike the Well of the Worm, in which the players nearly refused to take the hook and enter the well, this adventure was written such that it was the players’ idea to enter the tomb of Ulfeonar.  This module has obsolete references to Morale checks and such, making me think it’s an older product converted from a different edition, but I can see this as a classic: Meaningful character choices are made, flavorful monsters with perilous abilities are battled, and  several unique magic items are to be found instead of boring old gold pieces.  We weren’t able to finish this adventure that night, so it remains to be seen how it will end.  The safety of the village lies in the characters’ hands, but instead of retrieving the needed magic items from the tomb, they have replaced every snake ghoul they slew with one of their own party who died and rose again.  This module is open-ended enough that there was no sure way for me to predict what the players would do, making more work for the game master, but now I’m hooked too and want to know what they will do next.  All thanks to the Dark Master for re-skinning Doom of the Savage Kings and keeping it in print.  It’s a good one.

Well of the Worm

My players did not want to climb into the Well of the Worm, and I don’t really blame them: It’s a slime-encrusted hole in the ground that blood-drinking worms crawl out of.  This adventure was short and simple, a little too simple.  The characters spent most of their time battling zombies that vomit acid, the same foes again and again.  The treasure features healing potions, a cliche magic item that has been eliminated from later modules.  As a horror adventure, it was good and creepy, but it didn’t have any of the bells or whistles that I’ve come to expect from Goodman Games.  There are no puzzles or twists, only straight forward hacking and slashing.  Also, these digest-sized modules are always a bit of a disappointment to me.  You pay full price but don’t get as much art or content.  The Kovacs map looked good but didn’t exactly sync with the text.  This kind of editing oversight annoys the shit out of me (The index of Mutant Crawl Classics, ugh!) but can be overlooked for awesome locales to explore, neato monsters to battle, and meaningful player choices to make.  Well of the Worm didn’t go far enough with any of these.

Bride of the Black Manse & The Floating Oasis of the Ascended God

Bride of the Black Manse has to be one of the best Goodman Games modules.  I’ve been waiting forever for the players to reach 3rd level so we could try it out, and it was as swell as I had hoped.  The adventure is built around an interesting time mechanic: Every hour the bell tower rings and the conditions of the manse change and build towards the final scene at midnight.  It made a good mix of free-exploration and rail-road as the players  explore the mansion setting with less and less freedom each hour and are finally forced to face the boss, a devil and his horde well illustrated by Peter Mullen.  As always, the art in this module is excellent, and the Kovacs cartography looks good.  It has all the hallmarks of a good Goodman game:  Neat-o themes, cool location to explore, undefinable monsters with cool powers, meaningful choices to make, and only a little bit of treasure.  I liked how the devil’s throne begins spitting out gold and gems like a slot machine in the final scene, but my players were ready to get out of there and not willing to risk their life further for a few more coins.  The real reward is surviving!

Our second game that night, after inserting cider and PBR, was the Floating Oasis of the Ascended God.  This one has a unique setting that kept the players on their toes, weird un-nameable foes to battle, and instead of gold our heroes get a sip from the pool of longevity.  The adventure had a mythic quality to it as the players appear to be in an after-life, rubbing elbows with deceased spirits in search of redemption.  I loved it.

Our Heroes This Time

 

  • Welcome Dagmar the dwarf and L’loyd Pommelshart III the thief
  • Myfanwy got the emerald enchanter’s hat
  • The party’s giant slab of emerald was confiscated by Sir Glenn as restitution for murdering the Thieves Guild.  Now that Count Doyle knows who the culprits were, he plots his revenge.
  • Far away in the frozen northlands, Riffi the dwarf has grown to the size of a man, and Tobin Heath the wizard has given birth to the demon-spawn of Obitu-Que.

The Emerald Enchanter & Intrigue At The Court Of Chaos

Emerald Enchanter map

 

The Emerald Enchanter was written by the Dark Master himself and is classically cheesy. The locale is a wizard’s citadel of ridiculous design, with traps, secret doors, and dead end corridors—all the stuff you expect to find in a “dungeon,” not a residence. This one doesn’t take itself too seriously, with flying skulls and disembodied hands, and came off as light and fun, not dark and serious like some of the horror-inspired modules Goodman has produced. Of all the adventures, this one is the most D&D-inspired rather than Appendix N-inspired. I kinda felt like I was in middle school again rather than in a Lovecraft novel. In our 5 hour time slot, the party only made it through about a third of the map and, oddly, found the emerald guardsmen much more challenging than the eponymous wizard or his (very cool) tile golem. Both the wizard and golem made bad initiative rolls and died without getting a single shot off, whereas the guardsmen kept the party’s clerics very busy stopping everyone from bleeding out (six instances of a party member reduced to zero HP!) The Hall of Anguish, though creating much anxiety in the party, was easily defeated because 8 HP does not a menace make. All in all, this one was a fun, simple, map-based, combat-based adventure with some great Mullen art.

 

After a dinner break, three of our six players stayed for a second game, Intrigue At The Court Of Chaos. This module is kind of the opposite of a lot of DCC adventures, being puzzle-based with no real need for a map and very little combat. I thought there was too much set up written into this one, so I simplified the hook significantly: You drink a shaman’s potion and find yourself at a party in hell. Each player is approached by a different Chaos Lord and allowed to make a wish, which they committed to in writing before being teleported to the adventure start.   The puzzles weren’t really that hard to figure out except for Creation, which resulted in half the party becoming pregnant, depressed, light-sensitive, and sweating sunlight. So great! Now the dwarf is as tall as a man and the transgender wizard has a baby. The climactic battle versus their better selves was pretty cool too. This module was quite fantastic and the illustrations of the Lords of Chaos were nice. Unlike the Emerald Enchanter, we were able to finish this one in a single sitting, and the characters are forever changed by their experiences therein, which is the mark of a truly memorable adventure.