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.
The Jeweler That Dealt In Stardust is a short heist adventure for a party of thieves. Unfortunately, our party’s only thief died in the first scene, so the rest was about smashing safes with warhammers and triggering a bunch of traps. This was a claustrophobic adventure with a map on a 1 ft scale that consisted of five scenes at most, but kept our party busy for hours. Calling this a level 3 adventure is a bit of a stretch unless all of the characters are de-armored thieves with low hit points. It had the basic elements of a good adventure: Unique/Interesting setting, and weird/new monsters.
One thing I like about DCC is the lack of a Monster Manual. The shadow spiders are only going to appear in this module, and the next module will have a different foe. I appreciate the lack of stock villains in their writing. It keeps each game fresh and the players guessing. Of course, themes tend to develop; the Shadow occurs here and in Elzemon and the Blood-drinking Box; But they seem to have stopped Shadows right there at two instances. I would never buy a DCC monster manual; That’s the module’s job!
Later in the evening we played The Imperishable Sorceress with just us three musketeers (me, Mike and Rob) as it was in ancient times. I had the benefit of having played this module as a PC a couple of weeks before at Funagain Games (thanks Mario!) which helped me be able to run this adventure after a certain number of Pabst. Adapted to our campaign, it was a sequel to Frozen in Time, so our party was accompanied by many Neolithic 0-levels, yet still managed to botch it and drop the demon-bane sword into the chasm after being stung by a bitch wasp (spoiler alert!) Oh well, you can’t win them all, and the ones you don’t win only add weight to the ones you do.
All hail the Dark Master!
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