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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This is a very high-level (and hence deadly) adventure that originally was run as a competition dungeon - the 'First Annual Dungeon Crawl Classics Open Tournament' - at GenCon Indy 2004, and comes complete with competition scoring notes and pre-generated characters, although you can of course use your own if they have reached the dizzying heights of 15th level. It is, of course, a dungeon crawl to end all dungeon crawls, designed to challenge players every inch of the way. The Publisher's Note at the beginning describes the glee with which it was created, with several developers contributing a few rooms to make the ultimate challenge.

The adventure is quite straightforward: the party has to penetrate the Devil-Lich's crypt to stop her regaining her power according to a prophecy. The action, as usual, starts at the entrance to the dungeon, but there are a few suggestions as to how the party got involved in the first place. The background provides details of how the Devil-Lich came to be as well as explaining what's really going on, which is somewhat different from what the party is led to believe...

On then to three levels of trap- and puzzle-filled dungeon designed to challenge and test the most mighty and cunning adventurers. There's a crazed vampire scrawling comments on the wall, heed them, they may help. And there are bits of a paladin's sword scattered throughout the place, apparently gathering them and putting it back together give a weapon capable of defeating the Demon-Lich.

The whole adventure is well-resourced: good clear descriptions, evocative 'read aloud' text (to the level I suggest using it verbatin rather than paraphrasing), and a spectacular array of handouts. Monster statblocks and the game mechanics relevant to traps are provided just where you need to refer to them. As a tournament, the three levels should be run separately, and the party starts each level at full strength; if you play straight through the characters will be at a disadvantage.

Groups which enjoy puzzle/trap dungeons and who look to slay everything they see and then loot them will have a blast with this. Some may even survive. Every trap can be evaded or defeated, the trick is figuring out how... sometimes a bit of help may be necessary to set the party on the right path. Progression through the complex is also rather reliant on making the right choices and again guidance might be advisable lest the game end prematurely with a baffled party unable to proceed. Should they reach the climax of the adventure, an epic and cinematic brawl with the Devil-Lich herself ensues. She can be defeated, but probably at the cost of a party life or two. Some examples of how she was defeated during the competition are given, but it's likely other parties will come up with their own resolution. Reward initiative and lateral thinking! It's a classic of its kind.


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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

This adventure is notable as it is a direct sequel to an earlier one, The Blackguard's Revenge, which told the tale of a bunch of undead attacking the headquarters of an order of paladins. Whether or not your party was involved in that adventure, which (hopefully) saw the undead sent packing, they may be called upon to seal a further crypt to prevent even viler evil powers from getting loose. Trouble is, the crypt in question was designed by the best thieves and wizards money could hire to be impenatrable, and to seal it securely, first they must get inside!

There's a dire warning: the traps in the dungeon are not designed to be survived! So the party needs to take care, there are no convenient escape routes built in. The DM's notes also cover such things as wandering monsters and scaling the adventure for tougher or weaker parties than the 4-6 characters of 11th-13th level envisaged; and provides some suggestions for involving the party particularly if they haven't played The Blackguard's Revenge.

The background explains that the Iron Crypt of the Heretics was built with a three-fold purpose: to house the bodies of the heretical blackguards, to serve as a library for the religious tracts declared by the Church to be false beliefs, and as a storehouse for evil artifacts and cursed magic items brought back by questing paladins. In The Blackguard's Revenge, the first section was breached and the deceased blackguards raised as wights. The other two vaults remain, but the aggregation of evil stuff down there is fermenting and brewing a nexus of great evil... and something needs to be done before it erupts to scatter and cause problems across the land.

As usual, the adventure opens with the party standing outside the Crypt (and despite the dangers probably quite eager to get in, seeing as there's a blizzard howling around them). The whole place, excellently described, is full of traps for even the wary, never mind the unwary, and clear thought as well as strong sword-arms and ready spell books will be required to win through. There's quite a lot of reliance on doing the right thing in the right place... it's often not obvious, and the text suggests the use of appropriate Knowledge checks to 'remember' something about the situation that will provide the necessary information. You may find it necessary to drop hints when rolls are flubbed.

If you like well-described dungeons that are jam-packed with ingeneous and deadly traps, then this one awaits. Everything hangs together well, with the traps being well designed in a mix of clockwork and magic that - if magic existed - could work if you went and built them. Five pregenerated characters are provided, although the layout is messy and to make them usable it's best to copy them out onto a character sheet before use. Good handouts, including a few 'this is what you see' illustrations, and clear detailed maps complete this adventure.


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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

Usually, paladins come to the rescue of ordinary folks beset by evil... but what happens when the paladins themselves come under attack? In this adventure, the party comes to THEIR rescue!

One of the key points in the DM notes (along with the usual overview, wandering monster list and scaling guidance) is mention that this adventure is not your regular delve with a dungeon (or other place) to explore. This is a dynamic setting with lots going on, and the party will have to figure out where they will be most effective - and avoid those places where overwhelming odds would, well, overwhelm them.

On to the detailed background, which explains how the current situation arose. Back in ancient times, four paladins established a 'cloister' to become a training centre and sanctuary for paladins, but in time their successors fell out with each other and eventually came to blows - an event known as the Saints' War which ended, as such things do, in tears. But that was long ago, and few details are remembered today... or were, until the undead remnants of the losing side come calling...

It all begins for the party at a trading post called Ambroshea Trades. Several ideas are provided to get them there, if not already interested in recent events at the paladin's establishment, which is called Ordocar. However, if you want to play out events that get them involved, that's up to you (although there's a brief appendix describing the settlement): the adventure itself begins as they approach the valley where Ordocar is located. Even from here it's obvious something is amiss, and as they approach they see that most of the compound has fallen under attack, and needless to say some of the attackers are still around!

Everything is described clearly. It must have been quite a nice place (if a bit chilly) before it was assaulted. Throughout, the place is stated to be dedicated to a 'God of Valour' leaving you free to substitute the name of a suitable deity from your campaign world, but if you do not have one in mind a sample god is described in a sidebar. Just about everywhere the party goes, however, there are stray undead wandering around, as well as overt signs of the battle that raged here only recently... unless, of course, the party manages to walk into the middle of where the fight continues, a last stand being made by the Orodcar paladins against their undead adversaries. Here you will have to get your head around mass battle tactics, best to have a plan for what the participants will be doing when the party arrives.

Reaching the climax of the adventure, however, relies on the party managing to establish a conversation with the leader of the surviving paladins who, once he has decided to trust them, explains his fears and enlists their help. Or of course they can blunder in on it by themselves... if they want to explore the catacombs of the order, that is. Here the undead are practising vile rites and desecrating the remains of paladins long gone. The rewards, at least the feel-good factor, of defeating these ancient evils and enabling the surviving paladins to begin restoring their home, are great. Success is assumed. Failure would likely result in the deaths of the entire party, anyway.

There are good points and bad points about this adventure. If you like undead, especially the level-draining sort, coupled with a good solid backstory and a well-detailed location, this should prove enjoyable. Loot is low, and most items of value really belong to the surviving paladins anyway. It isn't very clear how the party ever gets to hear the full detail of the backstory, good though it is, unless they are victorious and someone then explains it to them. If you're after a good brawl against hordes of undead with no question that they are the bad guys and the party the good guys, this is one to enjoy.


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This is an adventure for a low-level party, who are asked to assist in investigating a recent spate of robberies in a wilderness town (called Welwyn, but you may easily substitute a suitable settlement in your own campaign world if you prefer). According to the locals, the robberies centre around a well, so down you go...

The DM gets a selection of resources including an overview of what's actually going on, a list of wandering monsters and where they are to be found, and notes on scaling the adventure for stronger or weaker parties than the one envisioned. There are a few hooks to help you get the party interested, and comments on how the Speak with Animals spell might be used to good effect. There are fuller background notes as well, including further ramifications and underlying plots goind on...

The adventure itself begins with the party about to descend the well - if you want to play out anything beforehand like the party being recruited or learning that locals believe the robbers escaped down the well, you'll have to run that for yourself. From then it develops into a detailed and excellent delve - and a nice change from being sent into the sewers! There's loads of information for each location and encounter and a lot of personalisation of the beings encountered - they may, in true Dungeon Crawl Classics style, be there to be killed, but names, mannerisms, backgrounds and a whole lot more are provided for them. They have reasons to be down there and doing what they are doing over and above being there to provide the party with a good fight!

Part of the delve works best for Small or preferably Tiny individuals, fortunately if the party looks in the right place they'll find potions to help. This can prove an extremely entertaining part of the adventure as people adapt to being much smaller than usual. A neat twist that is exploited well.

The adventure ends in classic style with a brawl with the Bad Guy behind it all and a chance to figure out what he was up to... and should end with the town being safe once more. A good feeling of satisfaction, nice for a low-level party. Overall it's a nice adventure to run and, if you can find it, there's a web enhancement covering the settlement which is useful if you want to start the adventure before the well itself, or have the town as a permanent feature in your game world.


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This adventure occurs when the party, for whatever reason, arrive in an apparently abandoned trading post called Garland's Fork. It soon becomes apparent that it's been 'abandoned' because all the residents have been turned into black trees... and a quest to find out why, and can they be turned back, ensues. As one might guess from the title, much of this investigation will be conducted underground.

The underlying reason is quite straightforward, and the GM is also provided with wandering monster tables and a selection of ideas for how to persuade the party that they want to go to Garland's Fork in the first place (or at least, pass through it when wanting to go someplace else!).

Although most of the adventure is a classic delve, there is some poking around to do on the surface in and around Garland's Fork - and even a friendly dog! (However, despite being named Violet, the poor mutt is referred to as 'he' for the rest of the adventure!) Everything is described clearly, and there is plenty going on that doesn't depend on the party having turned up, always a good touch.

Once they do proceed underground, things start getting strange, warped even. The Sunless Garden itself is a huge cavern... and just wait until you meet the gardener! But of course there's a lot more going on than that, plenty of scope for exploration, combat and looting in a multi-level underground complex - part natural, part constructed - with several conflicting sets of residents, none of whom are particulary fond of wandering adventurers. Everything, everyone, however, is there for a purpose; even wandering monsters have good reason to be wandering where they are, er, wandering.

The whole thing hangs together well, with a slightly demented air which makes sense once you reach the creature behind it all. The entire underground area seems to go on and on, every time you think you're done, there's another bit. There's a fair bit of treasure to loot - if you can a) get it out and b) sell it without being arrested! - and some neat ideas for follow-up adventures. An excellent delve with a nature-based twist that should keep the whole group entertained for a few sessions.


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