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Dungeon Crawl Classics #71: The 13th Skull $6.99
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #71: The 13th Skull
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #71: The 13th Skull
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/01/2018 07:56:48

This adventure is quite short - designed to be played in a single session - for level 4 characters, and opens with a warning that you need a good mix of specialists and plenty of fighting types, and that there are ample opportunities for the incautious to come to grief (terminally). The mission is quite simple - to save the girl - but in actuality it's very difficult to actually rescue her even when the party manages to triumph over evil.

A quite extensive background explains what is going on and how events over the past few centuries gave rise to the current situation. It all started with a deal with a devil, always a risky thing to do; but this one seemed to be working well until it came time for the devil to collect... The deal was, to give a wizard called Edward Magnussen great good fortune and other abilities which he parlayed into the position of Duke and command of the realm in which the action takes place. In return, he was to give over not just his soul but those of his next twelve male descendents and that of the next daughter born to the line. He was then to receive immortality, although for the meantime he'd die like any other mortal.

For the party, however, it all begins when they are in a packed crowd to witness an execution. On the block is a prophet who had suggested that the daughter of the current Duke be killed now before any fell fate befalls her - because she, of course, is the last link in the devil's deal. Up on the city walls, the Duke and his daughter watch the proceedings... and then she is carried off! The Duke immediately offers a fortune in gems to whoever gets her back.

It's easy enough to find out where the kidnapper took her - but it will take a good delve through caverns and crypts and a fair bit of fighting to deal with the evil that's going on, let alone get the poor girl back. There are a few rumours to pick up before the party sets out - some of them even have a slight germ of truth. The delve is perilous and can land the party in some interesting places - even a circle of Hell - and it's unlikely that they'll all return. The comments on the fates of various playtest parties make quite grim reading.

The underpinning plot is interesting, and there's ample scope for those who like battling undead, demons, and animated objects, or who enjoy figuring out nasty arcane rituals (with the aim of putting paid to them, we hope)...

But there's more! Tucked away at the back there's a whole level 2 adventure The Balance Blade. It's another single-session piece, and it is suggested that it is played as a one-off, as it basically ends with a full-blown party brawl - as in, with each other. Many players are not comfortable with this, and it does no good to party cohesion. It hinges around a wizard whose patron sends him on a quest, and requires some detailed preparation before running it, if it is to be presented to best effect. Unfortunately the patron is somewhat economical with the truth when asking the wizard to go on the quest, and so everything falls apart pretty quickly. For a start, the entire party gets transported to the adventure site before the poor wizard even gets a chance to ask them if they'd help him in the errand that he's been given.

And if that wasn't enough, there's a collection of Seven Strange Skulls right at the end of the book. They are there for you to use in your own adventures, and strange they are indeed!

Whilst everything here is fun, it's a bit of a mish-mash and somewhat gives the air of having felt the need to put out a 16 page book before there were 16 pages of material to fill it! Still, you should get a couple of enjoyable (if deadly) sessions out of the adventures, and then you still have the skulls to play with!

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #71: The 13th Skull
Publisher: Goodman Games
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2012 17:33:38

The 13th Skull is a mixed bag, almost quite literally, as it is two adventures in one package. The first, the 13th Skull, is pretty much a 4th level rescue mission.

The quick backstory is one of the Duke's ancestor's promised the daughter of one of his 13 generation of decedents (and 12 sons of earlier decedents to a devil for power and immortal life - the fool! ;) The daughter gets kidnapped in front of the PCs, the Duke offers a fortune for her safe return and the game is afoot!

The adventure itself is good, but doesn't rise to the level of Goodman's previous releases in the DCC RPG line of adventures. The art still rocks, the maps are awesome, but the adventure itself? Maybe it's the short length - 9 pages plus map less the rocking art. Maybe its the fact that even success will likely result in the death of the hostage (I know it's DCC and it's dark by nature - but when the designer states only one playtest group managed to rescue the princess, I think there might need to be a tweak or two.) It looks like it should play well until the end - so tweak the final battle is my suggestion.

Further in it's favor, the adventure does leave itself a few hooks for further adventures at the end.

Now, on to the second part of the bag: The Balance Blade, a 2nd level adventure. This one is a head scratcher for me.

First, it is stated it is better played as a one-shot, as it concludes with intra-party combat. This effectively means it isn't much use in an on going campaign, which is where I assume the vast majority of DCC RPG gameplay takes place.

Second, it requires mixed alignments to pass through certain areas. Which means it makes it even harder to try to edit this at home into something that will work in a campaign.

Third, it requires props - index cards and colored stickers. I understand why the props are needed, but it makes online play a bit awkward.

It might make a fine one-shot for a con or gameday, but except for the fairly linear map it's going to take some work to fit this into a campaign.

So, one good adventure and one less good adventure, for the price of one adventure.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #71: The 13th Skull
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2012 08:07:05

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/08/15/tabletop-review-dungeon-crawl-classics-71-the-13th-skull/

I’ve been a big fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics since it was using Wizards of the Coast’s Open Game license for Dungeons and Dragons 3.0/3.5. Since Goodman Games turned DCC into its own system, I’ve found I love it even more. The DCC system IS pretty prolific though as in the past month I’ve reviewed three other DCC adventures The Emerald Enchanter, Jewels of the Carnifax and the Free RPG Day release, and that doesn’t include adventures for the system put out by other publishers! I have no idea how they can churn so many of these out so quickly.

The 13th Skull especially caught my eye as the adventure bears the same name as a pretty popular point and click adventure/hidden object video game put out by Big Fish Games that I reviewed back in December of 2010. I thought that was a pretty odd coincidence and was curious to see what the two had in common besides the name. Aside from that, there really is nothing in common. The video game is set in modern times and involves a kidnapping and ghost pirates while Goodman Games’ adventure involves a kidnapping and a generation curse that condemns an entire family line to the 417th level of Hell. Ouch.

The gist of the The 13th Skull is that the progenitor of the Magnussen line, Magnussen I, has cheated death after a fashion thanks to a deal with a devil. Thirteen generations later, Madnussen I returns disguised as a hooded executioner and steals away the current Duke’s daughter in order to finally finish his pact with the devil. The player characters, after being offered a reward by the Duke, chase after the Duke, now known as The Silver Skull since well…that’s all he is –a silver plated skull. The adventure leads them into the Magnussen family crypt where horrors and adventure await.

The 13th Skull is a short adventure and is designed to be played in a single evening. That does not mean it is an EASY adventure however. In fact, it’s actually quite hard to achieve the adventure’s goal, which is to save the Duke’s daughter for a horrific fate. The adventure even states in its introduction that only one playtesting party ever managed to save her and that the mortality rate of characters widely varied. Now I’m fine with the amount of PC death in The 13th Skull. It is after all a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure and like Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Call of Cthulhu, there is MEANT to be an extreme amount of player characters meeting grisly ends. It’s an inherent part of the system as well as part of the fun to be honest. Where I do have a problem is that only one playtesting party was able to save the damsel in distress and that the adventure proudly states that. To me, this means one of two things and neither of them are good. The first is that the adventure was playtested by some pretty poor gamers, which I really hope isn’t the case. The second is that the adventure is extremely unbalanced and should have been retooled. In all honestly, after reading through and fiddling with the adventure, a case can be made for either…or even both.

A good adventure doesn’t have the GM gleefully punishing PCs and making it all but impossible to accomplish their primary goal. Even with something like the aforementioned Call of Cthulhu where your character is guaranteed to die horribly or go insane at some point while playing them, being able to achieve the core mission of an adventure is always within the realm of possibility…even if the characters are then raped and eaten by Deep Ones or sucked into a horrible dimension of chaos and dementia. Not so with The 13th Skull. Players are stuck trying to save a 0th Level Human with a randomly rolled 1d4 Hit Points in a situation where everyone loses 1 HP per round. So with a bad roll, if you actually want to go that route, there isn’t even a chance to save her. The text also encourages the GM to outright kill her if the PCs are screwing around or are simply too slow/dense to properly protect their meal ticket. If it was up to me, I would run this encounter very different from how it was written in order to give PCs a chance to save the duke’s daughter. Honestly though, my first instinct would have been to rush up and prevent her sacrifice or, if playing a character with spells, give her some sort of protection to buy the other characters time to kill the devil trying to ritually disembowel her. Either way, this part of the adventure set off several red flags for me and, if I was the one publishing it, I would have either reworked this section, or questioned the quality of my playtesters.

Overall, The 13th Skull isn’t a bad adventure. It’s a very memorable one with an especially creepy antagonist and players get to not just go through a dungeon crawl, but they get to go to hell and back to boot! The penultimate encounter could have been done a lot better, but the actually final battle against The Silver Skull is a fun one. Even if the PCs meet defeat in their primary goal, they can still accomplish the secondary one and that’s something at least

But Wait –there’s more!

Sorry for the Ron Popeil impression, but you’re actually getting two adventures for the price of one with this Dungeon Crawl Classics release! The second adventure in this collection is called The Balance Blade and it’s meant to be a one-shot or convention piece as it eventually boils down to inter party fighting with either one character dying or everyone else dying. It just depends on how the dice roll. Usually I abhor the idea of any adventure where the sole purpose is to get characters to kill each other as it can often lead to hurt feelings, especially when younger gamers are involved. The best adventures are those where players work together instead of sniping at each other with plans of betrayal. The only exception I’ve ever seen to this is in a large scale Vampire: The Masquerade campaign. Unfortunately, The Balance Blade is no exception and the entire affair hinges on forcing an unsuspecting PC to turn on his or her teammates and futily try and kill them all (which they should fail at miserably due to the numbers against them). Because this IS a one-shot however, it’s a little more palatable as it’s not like any of the characters involved would ever be played again.

The adventure itself is a typical dungeon crawl where players proceed through an exceptionally linear dungeon, avoiding traps and solving puzzles along the way until the climax where the one of the PCs tries to kill the others. It’s a pretty straightforward and unimpressive affair. Most of the puzzles revolve around alignment or finding some hidden traps. It wasn’t a terrible adventure by any means, but I can definitely see why it was included as extra padding for The 13th Skull. On its own, it’s not something I could recommend for purchase, but as a two for one deal, it’s a decent little add-on that you can play provided you have enough prep time to put this together because it requires a few extras…props shall we say.

Basically the two adventures contained in Dungeon Crawl Classics #71 aren’t the best. They’re decent but flawed adventures that would probably leave a gamer feel unsatisfied had they paid full retail price for one or the other. As a two for one offer, you’re getting a pretty good deal. Think of it as two decent, but not great adventures for three to five bucks each. That’s definitely something I can live with. The 13th Skull is by far the better and more memorable of the two, but there is fun to be had with both. It’d be a thumbs in the middle for either adventure, but getting two for the price in one lets me give this a mild recommendation – albeit with the stipulation that there are many better DCC adventures out there that you can purchase instead.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
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