Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Review: DCC #89: Chaos Rising

Every now and then a perplexed newbie appears on the DCC boards looking for guidance on the official adventures. Their confusion is unsurprising: not only the early DCC adventures were written for several game systems, but there are modules with fractional numbering, and unnumbered adventures hidden within other products. These are usually short sidequests, limited runs, or conversions of older D&D modules. Chaos Rising is a compilation of seven such adventures.

The booklet is 56 pages long and follows the iconic format of the current DCC line: eye-catching cardboard cover, sweet black and white interior, meticulously decorated maps, clear layout. I fell in love with their format the first time I got Doom of the Savage Kings in my hands, and consider it a gold standard for modules ever since. Inspired by Melan's post I checked if playtesters are credited, and I was glad to see that except for the last adventure they weren't forgotten.

The seven adventures within the booklet cover levels 1 to 5. They are all independent one shots that can be easily inserted into any campaign. Surprisingly there is no character funnel, and no level 4 adventure either. Let's see what else the book has to offer!

Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box

A level 1 adventure by Terry Olson, from the DCC RPG/Xcrawl Free RPG Day 2014 release. Elzemon the Quasit is bound by the wizard Nekros to guard and feed the titular box. He finds a hole in his contract, and convinces the wizard Rhalabhast that he really wants that box, so he should hire a bunch of ne'er-do-wells to steal it. If they fail, the demon had some entertainment. If they succeed, the demon will be free. It's a win-win situation for Elzemon - but not for the PCs. Obtaining the relic is no cakewalk: climb down the spiraling stairs for two days, get through an acid lake, find the entrance into the secret study under a pile of guano, then return to the surface with the box, which requires a healthy dose of lawful blood every day to keep its mysterious prisoner from escaping. In the meantime the group will be harassed by the sadistic quasit, colossal leeches, mongrel bats, and hairless vomiting cats that barf in the PC's mouth on a critical. Wicked! Then when the PCs think they can finally rest another NPC looking for the box is thrown in, and the players will have to decide whom they will piss off: a powerful wizard, or a whole church. It's a linear adventure, but it's full of delightfully fucked up ideas, and provides an ending ideal to become the starting point of a campaign.

The Imperishable Sorceress

A level 1 adventure by Daniel J. Bishop, from the DCC RPG/Xcrawl Free RPG Day 2013 release. Before the age of dinosaurs sentient sea scorpions called the Builders crafted imperishable bodies, but got trapped in them. Eons later Ivrian the sorceress found their secret, and tried to create an eternally youthful body for herself. She didn't succeed though, but managed to awaken the Builders, get killed, and become a ghost. Eventually her spirit managed to reach out to a blood realtive - one of the PCs, who is suddenly teleported along with his comrades to the cold mountains. After climbing the mountain and fighting savages the PCs can reach the old city, where Ivrian's ghost will ask them to finish the procedure she started. This will require the star stone held by a demon, who wants to be killed by the sword Nightraker, so he can leave this godforsaken place behind. Naturally the Builders are still alive, and will send ectoplasmic filaments to stop the intruders. The rooms also hold natural gas traps, poison gas traps, and invincible ghost fishes. Despite its small size The Imperishable Sorceress offers a few loops, branches, and multiple endings. If the sorceress gets her body and Nightraker back she will turn against the PCs. It's also possible her relative realizes the true power of the star stone and usurps the imperishable body from of the sorceress. Of course the Builders can circumvent both plans. Once done or in need of escape, the players can do it through a tunneling metal mole, or a portal at the peak, where a stone circle has the exact ritual of creating imperishable bodies written on it. This adventure is a real can of worms that deserves to be opened.

Glipkerio's Gambit

A level 2 adventure by Jobe Bittman, originally released as DCC #80.5. The party's wizard is visited by his patron(s) personally (The Three Fates as written, but can be easily changed to anyone else), who ask(s) him to clear out a temple invaded by the time traveling wizard Glipkerio, and his army of younger selves. As help the wizard is given a thread which makes him invisible to the forces of chaos, until the number 7 appears. The adventurers will have to ascend the mountain, where they will meet a cat-headed corrupt giant, wounded monks, stealing devilkin, hairy apes, and some evocative random encounters. After figuring out a puzzle the PCs will reach the temple grounds, which offer some more combat and exploration before the epic confrontation with all the Glipkerios hanging around. Some of them will travel back in time in the midst of the battle, and return later in a shape depending on what the PCs did to the wounded monks they've met during their ascent. At the end the elder Glipkerio turns into a cat-headed mutant giant, and travels to the past to stop the party. Glipkerio's Gambit is a fun and eventful one shot, albeit mighty linear. The premise is cool, the battles are interesting, the loot is good, and it has a simple, yet effective twist.

The Tower Out of Time

A level 2 adventure by Michael Curtis, originally released as DCC #77.5.  I have already bought this adventure last year on DriveThruRPG, and ran it in my D&D5e Wilderlands campaign. It's a trip to a primordial swamp, where the serpent-man wizard H'lisk sends a read beam from his tower to the sky. The beam is a homing beacon for the meteor that his master S'lissak used to travel the void. While it's incredibly linear, the scenery and the encounters are memorable - even disturbing, according to some of my players. The tower itself is an organic scaly structure, which holds spitting dinosaurs, antehumans controlled by cerebral leeches, prisons full of cavemen and rodents, giant trilobites, and the grotesque blood fueled flowerlike device which generates the red beam. There is a dangerous trap too, a simple puzzle, decent treasure, so all in all it's a well rounded little adventure with varied challenges. I'm a bit disappointed though, because the editor cut the patron Serbok out, who was included in the original release. It's a shame. If there is one thing DCC RPG needs it's more patrons.

The Jeweler That Dealt In Stardust

A level 3 adventure by Harley Stroh, from the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book. It is a heist in the house of the fence Boss Ogo, who hasn't been seen since last month. Ogo isn't dead though: he got his hands on a gem that drove him crazy and turned him into a follower of Ygiiz, the Spider-Mother. He spent most of his time and money on his studies and managed to open a portal, thus drawing the minions of Ygiiz into our realm. The party is about to raid the place, knowing nothing about what's going on between its walls. They have plenty of room for planning, there are several ways to enter the house. Once they are inside they will face devious traps, fake traps, millions of harmless spiders, and a handful of demon spiders that have a devastating three step killer attack. Meanwhile Ogo is sitting in his room connected to the mystic gem, which keeps him alive, and makes him able to summon more demon spiders. There is a rival band too, waiting on the nearby rooftops for the PCs to exit the building with their loot. Besides the gem that drove Ogo crazy (if it survives the confrontation at all), and his remaining money, the adventurers can recover some stardust. Pressed into the skin the less fortunate take damage, while the others earn some luck at the cost of being constantly watched by the Spider-Mother. The stardust can be also fused into a larger crystal focus. Cool stuff! This adventure screams Lankhmar in every possible way, which is the highest praise a heist adventure can get.

The Undulating Corruption

A level 5 adventure by Michael Curtis, also from the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book. This is a wilderness adventure, with a map divided into squares of 15 minutes of riding. Once upon a time cultists managed to summon the Night Worm, an extraplanar beast that eats corruption. From then on they could experiment with black magic as much as they wanted without becoming freaks. One day a lawful order defeated the cult, but kept the worm alive for they thought it could be used for the lawful cause. In the end the order was destroyed by infighting for control over the worm, and the monster was left hungering under the shrine. The hook is very straightforward: someone from the party wants to get rid of his corruption and hears a rumor about the Night Worm. By the time party reaches the shrine a group of treasure hunters have accidentally released the giant worm, which is heading towards the nearest town, warping everything in its way. Following its trail the PCs can encounter ten foot long mutant catfishes, and an exhausted anchorite, and that's all... The adventure focuses heavily on the battle with the monster, with special emphasis on being devoured by the creature. The survivors earn no (or minimal) loot for their deed, but the memorable fight and the one time opportunity to cleanse someone is totally worth it. Curtis also deserves a huge pat on the back for including simple advice on handling haste and fly spells instead of saying "they don't work".

The Infernal Crucible of Sezrekan the Mad 

A level 5 adventure by Harley Stroh, which was an example adventure in the first three printings of the DCC RPG rulebook. It was replaced by The Abbot of the Woods in the fourth printing, which I don't mind at all. Crucible promises to be an example of how high level a DCC RPG adventures should look like, but fails in this regard. The PCs are trapped in a three room laboratory that is built around a gimmick: one living creature must remain there. They will meet Elzemon the Quasit (a familiar face), some magical environmental effects, spell book eating glyph worms, mildly interesting loot, and an ape with a human brain. Not only there isn't much to do, but the adventure is also too wordy for what it offers. Surprisingly for a Stroh adventure this one is forgettable. Level 5 characters deserve something more epic than this.

In spite of my above complaints I like Chaos Rising a lot. It's jam-packed with intriguing adventures that require only minimal preparation, and don't take more than a session to finish. It's perfect for those times when the Judge is burned out, or only has free time while taking a dump. I hope Goodman Games will release another collection like this in the future - one hopefully less obsessed with wizards and climbing.

Tl;dr: While not without its fault, Chaos Rising is a juicy collection of short adventures that you won't regret buying.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Status Report

Last Friday we finished the first session of my new gonzo science-fantasy DCC RPG campaign, Terminus Nova. We had an epic character funnel, one I will probably write more about in the future - after I'm done running it one more time on a small rpg convention in Budapest. Preparing for the campaign was also a good excuse to dust off one of my all-time favorite classics, the Arduin Grimoire Trilogy. Be prepared for a lengthy review!

Since some of my players have the handwriting of an epilectic doctor, I have created a form fillable version of my DCC RPG character sheet. I didn't put much effort into it because working with the form fields was a pain in the ass, but it gets the job done.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

DCC RPG Character Sheets

Of course there is nothing wrong
with it if you like it olde skewl.
There are plenty of character sheets for DCC RPG with a wide variety of unique features and created in very diverse styles. Two more probably won't hurt. I was looking for something a little more mundane and functional that also has Matt Rundle's Anti-Hammerspace item tracking system, but I didn't find any to my liking. So I dusted off Inkscape and created one based on older sheets I had been working on. I thought they were pretty darn good! Then my girlfriend intervened, told me what's crap and why, so I had to overhaul it several times.

In the end I have created two versions: one with the classic item trackes, and one for those who don't like writing or drawing into boxes. These are class-neutral character sheets, no charts for Lay Hands or wizard spells - feel free to either use the Abilities & Notes box, or the other side of the sheet for that. I hope you will find them useful!

A4 DCC RPG character sheet with boxes
A4 DCC RPG character sheet with lines
A4 DCC RPG character sheet with lines (form fillable)

Monday, 2 January 2017

Review: Slügs!

I prefer the first two weeks of the new year over Christmas, because that's when the best presents I ordered for myself usually arrive. This morning the postman finally brought me my order from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. There were two items in the box: the already reviewed Broodmother Skyfortress (which is even more amazing in hardcover format), and the dirt cheap Slügs!, which was also LotFP's Free RPG Day product last year.

Slügs! is a 36 pages long digest monster supplement. It's written by James Raggi, who introduces 16 unique slugs you can use in your campaign. An intriguing choice, one that has a huge gap to fill because mollusks are extremely underused in D&D. It's a pity, they are weird and disguisting things - which are also the two of Raggi's specialties, so my expectations were high in this regard.

I can't complain about the quality. The color cover is outstanding, and the interior black & white illustrations are pretty good too. The artists knew when to get serious, funny, trippy, or weird. Those who are looking for the hardcore visuals seen in other LotFP products will be disappointed though, there isn't much disturbing stuff here except for two sexual themed pictures.

Raggi starts the book with ranting about the rpg industry in the introduction, which is not devoid of some finely delivered Trumpish rhetoric. Will this product make gaming great again? While slimy invertebrates aren't enough to save the OSR, this book proves that they can make your campaign better! This book is fun to read, full of imaginative new creatures, and silly pop culture references that made me grin like an idiot.

My favorite is Slügatron, a robot in disguise who on Saturday mornings will take you on random adventures. The Sluggish Slug spreads apathy, slowly turning everyone within a few miles into me during my university years. An encounter with the Love Slug will answer the ages old question about what perverted things the player is willing to do with for a few extra levels. Then there is the Christmas Slug, who eats junk, leaves a delicious trail, and carries treasure in his hanging colorful tumors.

Of course Raggi didn't forget about those who want to mess more directly with the PCs either. They will get what they are looking for in the Acid Slug, Glass Slug, Rock Slug, Vomit Slug. My only disappointment is the Mentallo Slug, which provides funky adventure opportunities, but otherwise feels very bland despite his huge brain. I was hoping for some psionic powers in vein of Carcosa.

The best thing I got with this book aren't the monsters themselves though, but Raggi's writing kindling my creativity. After reading the Slügs! I came up with a dozen new creature, so I've got almost twice as many creatures than what I paid for!

If you are ordering anything from LotFP do yourself a favor and put this book into your cart. It's inexpensive, and you're also doing a favor for the community, because the sooner his stock is out, the sooner Raggi will put up the Pay-What-You-Want PDF.

Tl;dr: Slügs! shows you how mollusks can improve your campaign. You can buy it HERE.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

The End is Nigh!

Well, at least for 2016 in my time zone... It has been an interesting and eventful year for me, but I'm not going to waste anyone's time with retrospects and boring lists. Since the reboot the blog's page views were steadily growing with each post, which was a very uplifting experience. I want to say a huge thank you for all Vorpal Mace readers. I promise I'll keep delivering reviews in 2017, and since I'm going to start a few new campaigns next year that will mostly use stuff of my own creation, be prepared for some gaming material you can actually use. Happy New Year!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Review: Broodmother Skyfortress

Holy fucking shit! I have totally forgotten about this! Broodmother Skyfortress was one of the many concurrent indiegogo campaigns Raggi ran as an experiment more than four years ago. From around two dozen campaigns only four got funded. Many considered this  whole affair a failure and forgot about it - including me. No wonder I was surprised when a few weeks ago the release of BMSF was announced.

Broodmother was written by Jeff Rients, who is one of my all-time favorite OSR bloggers. While others were busy rambling about how thieves ruined D&D, admiring obscure rules from the DMG no one ever used, or having dick measuring contest about who is the grognardest of all, Rients let his imagination run wild in fun and evocative articles. I'm not saying he didn't have some tedious posts about things I couldn't care less about, but I've found him to be far more entertaining and helpful than others. Thus my expectations were high.

Those who supported the indiegogo campaign didn't exactly get what they were initially promised, and I'm sure none of them will complain about that. Instead of a 32 page digest-sized module LotFP published a 170 page booklet that's full of DM advice and Jeff's best posts besides the adventure. That's what I call overdelivering!

Before delving into the contents I have to halt for a bit to praise Ian MacLean's brilliant art. Just take a look at the cover! It's a huge ass elephant-shark hybrid bursting through a door to slaughter soldiers with an anchor. It looks wicked cool. It makes me want to read it. It makes me want to run it even before reading a single word. The interior art is just as good as the cover. It's full of energetic comic style illustrations about these ugly bastards ruining iconic stuff, adventurers getting the short end, and the author doing all kinds of silly things. My favorite is the homage to a classic Exalted cover, which will make your eyes bleed. The adventure is accompanied by two maps, which besides showing the cartography have the random encounter charts on them. It's as useful as it sounds: incredibly.

The book is anything but boring. Jeff's conversational voice will grab your attention right from the first sentence, and take you on a journey where he introduces every aspect of DM-ing. The titular adventure about big weird monsters isn't your usual dungeon with keyed rooms, it's an example Jeff uses to show you how to write a kickass adventure. He will analyse every aspect of his work, reveal the reasons behind his decisions, and then give excellent advice about running and customizing it.

Jeff starts this by showing you how to incorporate BMSF it to your campaign, come to terms with it wrecking your setting, get your players motivated to visit the godforsaken place, and start a new campaign if you don't have one already. By the time reach the cast of antagonists you will be already pumped to run this!

If it wasn't clear from the covers, the monstrosities of BMSF aren't your usual D&D giants. They are wicked barbaric beasts that spend their time with operating the sky fortress, raiding settlements, leaving their eggs behind, and doing all kinds of disgusting things. They are godlike, and to illustrate it, Jeff uses a cool mechanic that will surely piss of some grognards: they don't have any AC value, because they are so big you can't miss them, but they have 5 points of damage resistance. With their shitton of hit points it's obvious that battling them is suicide.

There are seven giants, each of them with its own personality, agenda, and disgusting habits. Their rendition is straightforward about what's important, and vague about the small details. What are the tits of the Broodmother like? How are the Terrible Twins conjoined? Who are these giants? Who built the floating castle? Who are the wretches living underneath? You don't get exact answers. Instead, you get options that you can choose from, or completely ignore. Inspiration over instructions. I love it. Thanks to these holes the adventure will need some work before running it, but not too much, and gives you enough help to get it done quickly.

The dungeon has 28 keyed sites, and can be divided into three major sections. The sky fortress is where the giants live their lives and keep the fortress afloat. The surrounding clouds are full of ruins left behind by the original builders. The tunnels below are the home of primitive humans stuck here generations ago. The players can also meet spider swarms, hatchlings, spectral malevolences conjured from an angry dead god's brain, but they will probably have more problems with the enviroment than its inhabitants. There are plenty of objects to interact with, but being careless will have dire consequences. Foolhardy players can quickly turn the exploration into a crazy escape mission in several ways - including tampering with the skydrive, turning off the golden obelisk that serves as lightning conductor, and reviving the dead god that kills 1d6 creatures every turn. Such extraordinary place has extraordinary loot too, but their value is not always apparent.

The second half of the book is a collection of Jeff's best articles, including classics like Carousing, The Living Dungeon, EXPloration, How To Awesome-Up Your Players. Some had minor updates, but they are basically the same articles you can find on his blog. At the end there is an appendix with monster and magic item stats for 3e/Pathfinder fans. It's a nice touch, although whoever converted the monsters forgot to take into account the higher damage values 3e/Pathfinder characters. To achieve the same shock and horror that the giants can have in LotFP I recommend at least doubling the DR values.

BMSF is a module that was worth waiting for. For your money you get a kickass adventure, and some of the best advice the OSR ever provided. This is the magnum opus of Jeff Rients. While I can't imagine he could ever produce anything better than this, I sure hope this isn't the last time we've seen his work published.

Tl;dr: Instant classic. You can buy it HERE.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Review: Underport: Abyssal Descent

Reading Crimhthan The Great's OD&D Blog reminded me I've bought a module called Underport: Abyssal Descent many months ago. Released by Direbane Publishing this adventure promises to be a vintage mega dungeon from the halcyon days of the hobby. It focuses on action, and does not give a shit about encounter balance. Sounds good! The dungeon was written for the Knights of the All Mind ruleset, which seems like an unholy mix of 3e and OD&D. It's unlikely anyone ever used this system other than its author. Thankfully it's easy to convert the stats to any editions of D&D.

Opening the book will immediately invoke the inimitable old-school feel thanks to a layout so bad, it makes even the LBBs look good. Single paragraph, shitty fonts, ugly stat blocks... I'm not sure if it's intentional, but well done! The foreword confirms that the adventure will be a huge mess, with changing styles and a wide variety of influences including Judges Guild, Arduin, and puberty (unless you've forgot about those years, the latter means violence, sex, drugs). We also learn important information like the average heights of tunnels, chambers, caverns, and why didn't the author include wandering monster charts: if the PCs make noise just pull the monsters from the nearest room, or throw them a gelatinous cube. That's a simple and elegant solution I was thinking about using too.

The adventure is 88 pages long, with a seperate 18 pages long file for the maps. The dungeon has more than a dozen levels, big and small ones alike. They are scans of old drawings that were never cleaned, full of stains and smudges. Until you get familiar with them it can take some effort to find out what's going on, and where the different labels are. Once you can see through the Chaos you will find a real gold mine! The maps are full of exciting names, like Tita Luigi Bomba's Castle Hold, Battle Caves, Prime Material Gate To Abyss. Names like these are a perfect way to pique my curiosity in no time. They sound interesting! I want to check them out! I want to know what's going on there! To make things even more olde school, there is a cross section of the levels too.

Not only there are many levels, but they are varied too. The module starts in an underground pirate hideout, then continues to the depths through a mining complex, a crossdresser overlord's castle, the battle caves, a monk's hold in a mushroom forest, a "multi-dimensional demiplane Hellscape prison", and other weird places until the aforementioned gate is reached at the bottom of the Eternal Pit.

The encounters are just as colorful as the environment. The adventurers can meet both classic and unique monsters during their delve. What I really love about them is that these creatures aren't just put in a room to be slaughtered: the book is full of scenes where something is actually happening! A bar with drinking skeletons! Drunken pirates causing fire! Hobgoblins planning a rebellion against their king! Fire giants having sex! An insectoid creature disguised as a crying little girl trying to lure victims to their doom! I could go on all day about all the amazing happenings of this dungeon.

The writing is short, rough, and goddamn evocative in the beggining. The descriptions could've been even more effective with more powerful choice of words, but they are still miles better than your average dungeon room read aloud text that gets bogged down by unnecessary details. It's a pity the style changes dramatically midway. The encounters become more static, the descriptions longer, the levels less interesting. Sometimes I felt the author being tired, maybe even a bit burnt out. This doesn't mean of course that the lower levels are rubbish, but they aren't as good as the upper ones.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this product to anyone interested in megadungeons and early homebrew adventures. It's my favorite historical artifact besides the Rythlondar chronicles. I wonder if the Necropolis of Chaos, a sequel promised at the end of the book will be released too one day.

Tl;dr: Underport is an authentic old-school megadungeon with exemplary upper levels, and a bit weaker lower levels. You can buy it HERE.