Fate’s Fell Hand is a non-map-based adventure that still has a cool location, with interesting monsters and NPCs to slay, and an “escape room” format where the characters try to find enough magic cards before the time is up. I found this one complicated to run, requiring careful study and consideration, not a grab-and-play adventure, but the premise was pretty cool and I was sucked into the possibilities of the pocket dimension (I was inspired by PJ Farmer’s “World of Tiers” books I was reading when I got this). In the end, our party of hardened monster-slayers missed the two coolest encounters (spoiler: the basements.) In particular, they refused to go down the narrow shaft that required them to take off their armor, sensing a trap and fully aware that Goodman Games adventures are not necessarily written for players to survive every encounter.
I have been cultivating an atmosphere in which everyone believes they could die. Certainly, the greatest achievement of the Dark Master is the advent of the 0 level funnel, which desensitizes the players, and more importantly the Judge, to character death. But that’s just the first adventure. In our games, players run two leveled characters each, so, like in the funnel, they can die and still be in the game. I can no longer imagine a game with only one character per player: No judge would allow you to die unless you were being annoying and they wanted you out of the game. Another convention that has my players convinced they might die is keeping a “Hall of Heroes” file where all their dead 0 levels reside. Dead characters are not thrown away. Instead, every time someone dies, I play bagpipe music on my phone, note the cause of death on the sheet, and place it ceremoniously into the Hall of Heroes where they will await the end of time. We currently have 27 souls in this file, mostly 0 levels, but repeating this little ritual has us prepared psychologically for the inevitable character death. And finally, there’s the Goodman Gospel of rolling dice publicly so that the Judge (the big softie) can’t fudge the results. I also like to give weight to dice rolls by announcing the target number and consequence; For example, if Curwen is hit and I’m about to roll damage, I ask him first how many Hit Points he has left (say, 4hp) and announce the damage roll (1d6+1). At this point, everyone leans in because Curwen’s fate is unfolding in front of them. He will only live on a 1 or 2. There is tension in this roll, and everyone is fully engaged for one lovely moment. That’s my favorite part of the game, but if the players feel like they can never really die, then the dice mean nothing and the drama is lost.
In our game this time, no leveled characters died. It almost never happens. (There is only one 1st level in the Hall of Heroes). But my players believe they can die, so they refused to take off their armor to climb down that narrow shaft. I was a little bummed that they missed a cool encounter (spoiler: demonic flies), but I’m pleased to see my players believe their choices matter. They act as if their fates are in their own (fell) hands. So I’m stoked on that.
At the beginning of time was the great God War that shook all existence and broke the universe into four planes:
- Lawful Plane—Home of the Lawful gods, Lords of Law, and their angels
- Chaotic Plane—Home of the Chaotic gods, Lords of Chaos, and their demons
- Physical Plane—Home to men and monsters and the chess board of the gods
- Neutral Plane—Home of the Neutral gods, also called The Underworld, where the souls of men go upon death to await the end of time
- King Archie announces his new flag design:
- 5 new Barons of North Port have been announced:
Baron Storg, Iron Tooth
Baron Pog, Hammer Face
Baron Bill S Preston, Wanderer
Baron Curwen, Son of Nurwen
- Curwen the wizard & Bill the elf now both cast the Enlarge spell and have used it to make mince meat of King Kong
- The clerics Pious & Ra’Lerl have built competing shrines and begin to collect followers
- Pog the dwarf & Pious the cleric have invested in Curwen’s scheme to build an armory in North Port
- Ungal the Untamed craves the frozen airs of the northlands from whence he came
- Chub the thief is now a 2nd level Murderer
- Storg the warrior is now a father
- The last of the dog-faeries have been exterminated
Moon-Slaves of the Cannibal Kingdom is probably the worst title for a DCC adventure, clunky, over-written, and inaccurate, but once I saw the map/diagram on the last page I couldn’t stop wondering what it was all about. This module is a tantalizing play-environment in the form of newly-discovered islands in need of exploration. It evokes The Isle of Dread with steamy jungles ruled by dinosaurs, King Kong with a ginormous ape character, and A. Merrit in the form of flying, sentient metal blocks that can coalesce into various forms. What this adventure did right was give meaningful player choices. At the onset, there are many ways to approach the mysterious islands. Our team ignored the caldera and maze of sunken ruins, both super-cool features, and instead landed on the peaceful beach with no opposition. This adventure also had lots of cool NPCs to tussle with, and by a luck of the wandering monster dice, they met the ginormous ape depicted on the cover for an epic battle. I was pleased to see that some player choices could result in extremely dangerous encounters, while other choices could take you quickly to the story’s heart. Our party suffered casualties from random spider-men, yet conquered the Undying Queen post haste with a cleric’s paralysis spell. There was so much crammed into this module it becomes muddled at times, but there is so much excellent possibility unleashed that I experienced the “mode of exploration” myself–I really didn’t know which way it would go, what would happen next, or where the real threat lay. Like most DCC modules, the Kovacs cartography is superb and the Poag title page is lovely. And to the players’ surprise, unlike most DCC modules, there is an infinite amount of gold to be found! I give this one two thumbs up.
Blood For The Serpent King is only about four rooms long, but our party of fierce adventurers was nonetheless forced to their wits’ end and the very limits of their capabilities. This module has a solid Mayan snake-guy theme, a puzzle element, and a couple of killer combat encounters: Our party never made it up the ziggurat thanks to the giant sea serpent. And lets not forget the terror and awesomeness of the finale location. The map is worth copying for player view—You have to see the art to understand the wickedness of the ziggurat and black storm. This short adventure is an add on to Bride Of The Black Manse and escaped my scrutiny at first, but level 2 comes before level 3, so…
This was the game our group really started to feel their Mighty Deeds and Spellburn. Mighty Deeds is a great mechanic because the players can just make it up on the spot. Spell casting is much more complicated, to the point of uselessness unless every wizard, elf and cleric has a copy of the rulebook to scrutinize. Thanks to People Them With Monsters for providing spell sheet downloads, bcuz having a handout for every spell is the only way to for new players to know their powers. The Enlarge spell totally kicked ass and somehow gave better Armor Class bonuses than the Magic Shield spell. A maximum spellburn by Whipplestan the elf to summon aid from the King of Elfland was the party’s only hope for survival after the giant water serpent wiped out the rope bridge. Several characters were killed and brought back from 0 Hit Points in the nick of time, adding an immense tension to the game, and the party’s inability to reach the top of the ziggurat and “finish” the adventure made it all the more powerful in the imagination. The sense of wonder and satisfaction was great! All thanks to the Dark Master for making possible such a fine Saturday afternoon!