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Capharnaum Quickstart: THE TEARS OF AMPHAROOL
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/12/2018 09:17:08

Lushly presented, we have here a rich fantasy world that is Arabian in style. In this world, certain individuals are born with a birthmark on their backs shaped like a dragon's claw. It is belived - and expected - that these individuals are capable of great heroism, of achieving great renown... or notoriety, should their astonishing feats tend to the evil rather than the good. The player-characters are all marked thus: what will they accomplish? What songs will be sung about them, or stories told?

Colourful adventures, political, military, and magical intrigues await the characters in the land of Jazirat, once annexed by a crumbling Empire that itself was built on the remains of the Republic of Agalanthia. Jazirat is a vast peninsula with a big desert in the middle and Capharnaum to the north, regarded as the centre of the world, while the nation of Kh'saaba is found to the south. Many peoples with their own traditions and beliefs mix here, sometimes at peace, often not.

Scene set, we move on to the Quickstart Rules, a cut-down version of the full Capharnaum rules. The GM here is called Al-Rawi, which is the Arabic for 'storyteller', and task resolution is by rolling handfulls of d6s... you'll need a lot of them. The number rolled depends on your score in the appropriate attribute (Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence or Charisma) and where appropriate you add in the number of points you have in an apposite skill. Most attributes and skills are rated 1-5, so normally you'll be rolling up to ten dice at a time. You then add up the best rolls, using the number of dice derived from your attribute - these are your Result dice, and you want as high a result as possible. This is compared against a target or against what someone else rolled if it's an opposed task. Sounds simple, huh? But there's more. Every time you roll, one die is designated the Dragon Die and if you roll a 6 on that, you keep that 6 and reroll, adding that result in as well... and so on until it rolls something other than 6. Only the Dragon Marked get to rill a Dragon Die. There are also extra effects if you roll three dice the same, called a 'Constellation'... and there are other bits as well. It sounds complex but once you have got your head around it, you'll find it works quite well, even if it makes the die-rolling a bit intrusive into the flow of the game.

The rules bit then goes into great detail about combat. It's a round-based system with everyone involved rolling initiative each round, then taking their actions in turn. Needless to say, there are a lot of different actions to choose from. There are also different classes of opponents from Champions (who give even the Dragon Marked a run for their money) to the hordes of 'Babouche-Draggers' who fall over at a harsh look and are there for local colour rather than real opposition. It's all intended to create a cinematic feel for combat, and flamboyant moves are encouraged. This is followed by a brief look at magic, which is supposedly flexible and profound; here it's limited to discussion of a single improvisational style practised by both of the magic-using pre-generated characters provided. In this, to cast a spell the player states which 'Sacred Word' (Create, Destroy, or Transform) is to be used, then describes the effect they are trying to create and then roll for the success (or otherwise) of your spell.

Next comes the adventure The Tears of Ampharool, which begins with the party travelling in a caravan across the desert when a sandstorm hits. Eventually an opportunity opens up, rather neatly it doesn't matter whether or not the party take up the offer, Whether or not they decide to explore a mirage palace that appears before them, there's plenty to do in the desert. It is all well constructed and hangs together neatly, leaving the party with the impression that the choices they may really do make a difference.

Finally, there are five pre-generated characters to choose from. Each is well-rounded and detailed, complete with charming illustrations.

Perpare to be swept away on a magic carpet of adventure. The game mechanics seem complex when you read through them, but become less clunky as you get to know them, with the magic system lending itself to some spectactular results if you are prepared to put the effort into designing your spells. There's a glorious immersive feel as this rich setting takes over and embraces you.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Capharnaum Quickstart: THE TEARS OF AMPHAROOL
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #21: Assault on Stormbringer Castle
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/10/2018 10:26:55

Recently, several coastal towns have been battered by storms that have wrecked property and taken lives. Locals believe the storms have been caused by a storm giant seeking to extort tribute, and are in need of adventurers to raid her castle and put an end to her antics. It's a tough challenge for sure... is the party up to the task?

The introductory material for the DM covers an adventure summary, notes on scaling the adventure for parties stronger than the recommended 4-6 characters of 12th-14th levels (it's suggested that weaker parties will only be going to their deaths!), an encounter table, and a few hooks to get the party involved, all based around the 'locals ask for help' premise. The backstory explains why the greedy storm giant has been asking for more and more money in 'good weather tribute' - something the party may or may not find out for themselves, she's certainly not seen fit to inform the locals she is extorting - and a little about the coastal towns affected.

The adventure proper starts with the party approaching the storm giant's castle, which stands on a mountain by the coast some ten miles north of the towns. The first part of the adventure involves getting up to the castle itself without alerting her or her minions, which involves getting past assorted monsters she permits to live on the mountainside. Options include going up the path, climbing the mountain or taking to the air, and means of dealing with pesky adventurers using any of these routes are provided. Once up there, the castle grounds are enormous - and of course, must be crossed to gain access to the castle itself. There's no shortage of monsters in the grounds and on the curtain wall to stand in the party's way.

Once the party reaches it, the actual tower is built giant-scale as well - not very surprising seeing as the storm giant lives there, but it's good to see it designed that way not just scaled up a bit to accommodate her. It's filled with wonders - and some perverted plants - and a tome that brings a whole new meaning to being lost in a book! The climax is, of course, a brawl with the giant herself... but this ends in a way that leads neatly on to the next adventure in the series.

There is a lot to do, see and fight here, plenty of inventiveness in the surroundings and good use of giants - and their cohorts - for what they are rather than the same as anyone else only bigger.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #21: Assault on Stormbringer Castle
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #20: Shadows in Freeport
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2018 09:50:36

This adventure is interesting in that it makes use of another publisher's setting - the city of Freeport from Green Ronin. You don't need to have any of Green Ronin's books on Freeport to run this though, just understand that it's basically a den of pirates dressed up with a thin veneer of legality. Against this backdrop, the present adventure runs. There's something odd going on, and it soon turns into more than the kidnappings the party are asked to investigate...

The introductory material for the DM includes an adventure summary, notes on Freeport, encounter tables, scaling information, and several ways to get the party involved. The default one is that parents ask them to find missing children, but several others reasons are given to get them to enter the dilapidated manor house that is the setting for the delve. There's also an interesting section on how to cope with pesky parties who insist on doing something other than enter by the front door - useful when, as always, carefully designed plots fall apart as soon as the party arrives! As well as a full and detailed background explaining what is really going on, there's a section on how to handle character insanity, should anyone become unhinged due to the horrors within! And horrors there are, this is funadmentally a haunted-house mystery with gross, bloody and terrifying scenes... be warned if any of your group are easily upset this might not be the best adventure for them.

The adventure itself begins with the party standing in the street outside the building in question. Once they venture in (by whatever route they choose) the horror soon begins, and continues without let-up during their visit. Most of the inhabitants, alive or undead, are off their heads. The building consists of two floors, a roof garden and a basement. Every room is described clearly, with notes on what (and who) is to be found there and all necessary game information to play out encounters. Quite often there are associated handouts as well, to let the players 'see' through their characters' eyes. Whilst there is plenty of horror to be found above ground, the basement is the true dungeon of this adventure, and it's here that the controlling evil genius will be found and the climactic battle fought... but there's plenty more to explore, monsters to fight and traps to evade before the party gets that far.

There are a few sketchy ideas for further adventures, a whole bunch of new monsters and some new magic including a Madness Domain. Four pre-generated characters are provided if you want to jump straight in to the adventure, although the way they are presented means that you need to sift through the notes and put them into a more sensible format (maybe transcribe them onto a character sheet) before they'll be of any use.

The stakes are high, the very fate of Freeport itself hangs in the balance. Indeed if the party dawdles, the final assault may be launched and they'll have one last chance to stop it. If you like a good twist of horror to your delve, this is well worth checking out, while if you already use the Freeport setting, this could provide an interesting twist in your ongoing storyline.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #20: Shadows in Freeport
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #19: The Volcano Caves
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/06/2018 08:28:29

There's something odd going on in a local dormant volcano. For a start, any flame bends to point towards it. If that sounds odd to you, maybe it's time to investigate...

The DM is provided with an adventure summary - it's a fire-themed delve - as well as encounter tables, scaling information and a more detailed backstory to explain just what's going on down there. There are also some quite innovative adventure hooks to get the party interested - for example, during an earlier adventure, someone casting a fire-based spell gets an irresistable urge to go visit the volcano in question. It's worth noting that the volcano is no longer completely dormant, and it's hot in there. Party members in heavy clothing or armour are going to suffer, and everyone needs to keep well hydrated. There's boiling water and magna to contend with as well.

As usual, the adventure proper begins with the party on the threshold: in this case, standing outside a cave in the volcano. It won't be long before they meet some of the strange inabitants, including a new race called klaklin, lobster-like humanoids who seem immune to heat. Anyone who enjoys exotic wildlife will have a field day here, there are plenty of strange creatures to study... if they don't try to eat you first. With the remnants left behind by previous inhabitants and new arrivals there is a lot to do, see and fight... and even a talking sword which has some useful background information (a neat and novel way to share the backstory with the party).

There's quite a lot going on down there under the mountain, yet when the party returns to the outside world everything seems just as it was. Will anyone believe their tales and recognise them for the heroes that they are? There are some good ideas for follow-up adventures based on some of the encounters. There are new races and monsters, a couple of magic items, and even four 8th-level pregenerated characters if you want to jump right in (well, you would benefit from transcribing them onto character sheets) as well as handouts and illustrations galore. A thoroughly enjoyable and origninal delve.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #19: The Volcano Caves
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #18: Citadel of the Demon Prince
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/05/2018 09:00:20

Rescuing local farmers from a bunch of evil cultists who have been terrifying the neighbourhood should be relatively straightforward for a high-level party... until they find they have to travel to other dimensions and battle a demon prince on his own turf before he completely wrecks their world! Small stakes, hun?

There's a note that this work references the Demon Hunter's Handbook published by Goodman Games, but that you don't need to have a copy to play. Anything you need has been reprinted here. Still, if you like battling demons, you may find it worth getting hold of it. There's a synopsis of the adventure, notes on adapting the plot to fit in with your own campaign, encounter tables, scaling information, and a whole lot of backstory to help you get set up. Recommendations are made about dealing with planar travel and dimensional effects, and there's a note that one or two bits are a bit graphic and if your players are young you might feel the need to skim over them a bit. There are a few hooks to help you get the party involved too, and ideas about how to feed them information. This last is good, because there is a lot in tbe backstory and it would be a shame if the rest of the group never found out its depths and complexity.

The Cult of the Broken Word hang out in a dark abbey, a former temple of light that they took over and corrupted ages ago, and the adventure proper begins with the party standing at the main gates of the abbey grounds. The first part deals with their passage to the front door... not as easy a task as one might expect. Notes are provided on how to deal with parties inconsiderate enough to suggest flying or teleporting to the front door. Once they reach the abbey itself, the next task is to actually get in, which is not as easy as it might be. Various routes are suggested, each with their own problems.

Once in, things don't really improve. It's a suitably perverted mockery of a monastery, with plenty of perils in the shape of traps and monsters to contend with. There is a lot to explore in even the 'normal' parts... and then it begins to get very weird indeed. There are dimensional echoes, the result of a failed attempt by the cultists to transport their home to the Abyss, then there's a rapidly-arriving chuck of the Abyss - the demon prince's palace that he's ripped out of its home dimension and is attempting to bring to the Prime Material as part of his dastardly plot. There are a couple of massive magical/technological devices that he is using to power these plans, with the party will have to figure out, at least enough to know that they ought to destroy them. These make for a suitably epic backdrop to the final battle with the demon prince himself, a finale worthy of the name. Of course, the party then have to get themselves home again...

Well-resourced with maps, handouts, good descriptions, all the game mechanics you need to run each encounter and more, there are several ideas for further adventure. There are notes on the surrounding area and on new monsters including several types of demon, and new magic items - all of which can be used as appropriate in your own games. This is an epic adventure of world-shaking proportions, quite cinematic in scale.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #18: Citadel of the Demon Prince
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #17.5: War of the Witch Queen
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/03/2018 08:03:09

In northerly moors, evil witches are to be found. That might be enough to get the party heading that way... It is suggested that a well-balanced party is best for this adventure, but that there are some aspects best suited to a sorceror. If you don't have one, don't worry, they can be re-tuned to work with a wizard instead.

The DM's materials include scaling information, a wandering monster table, an adventure overview and the detailed backstory. Apparently there was an entire coven of witches living in the area, all evil, and they fell to squabbling. As a result of this, with plenty of treachery and broken promises as well as outright brawling, a young sorceress claimed the title of Witch Queen. Her hold over the title and the rest of the coven is still tenuous, and this looks like a good opportunity to rid the area of these evil witches entirely!

The adventure starts on the brink of a sinkhole in the moors, where the lair of the Witch Queen is believed to be located. It's wreathed in fetid mists and certainly sounds the part. How you get the party there, however, is left up to you. The first part of the adventure involves fighting and bypassing traps to actually get to the entrance of the lair itself.

The second part of the adventure begins when the party pass through a magic portal into the dungeons of the Witch Queen. That's when the fun starts. Traps and monsters abound, and it soon becomes clear that all manner of horrible things go on in these depths... and only after these have been navigated will the party be able to enter the final part, an extradimensional space where the Witch Queen herself is to be found. Needless to say she's none too happy about this and attempts to flee before she is killed, as she assumes anyone surviving thus far will be powerfull enough to send her for a dirt nap.

There's little in the way of follow-up adventure ideas, unless of course one of the party fancies becoming the next Witch Queen! This does present some intriguing possibilities... Resources include five pre-generated characters (which need transferring onto character sheets, they are a jumble as presented) and lots of 'this is what you see' pictures to display.

Overall, it's a tough but quite interesting delve, provided you like brimstone and the stench of sulphur! No doubt a great service would be done to all honest denizens of the area if the Witch Queen were to be overthrown...



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #17.5: War of the Witch Queen
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #17: Legacy of the Savage Kings
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2018 09:48:30

Fancy squelching around a disease-ridden swamp in search of corrupting evil? Then this adventure is for you... and it STARTS with a dragon...

The DM's Section includes an adventure summary, wandering monster chart, and extensive background about what's going on and how it all came to be. There's also scaling information and an impressive selection of 'hooks' to get the party interested in this adventure. It's noted that as well as the actual antagonists provided, there's a deadly magical disease and the swamp itself to contend with - and this last is a hostile environment that will prove as much a threat to the party as anything else. As an aside to that, suggestions are made for the best ways to introduce replacement characters for those which perish.

The adventure proper begins with the party already in this misty, chilly, smelly swamp. Then they hear sounds of combat close by... The first part of the adventure involves exploring the swamp itself and finding out at least some of what's going on. And meeting the dragon. Mustn't forget him! Opportunities for combat and looting abound, along with clues to find that should take the party onwards.

The adventure then moves to a small fortress called the Forge, which the party will have to infiltrate (or besiege) as well as a few other places and people to investigate. Then it's off underground to a lair located in an ancient temple, a dank and dark place peopled by an unlikely tribe that doesn't meet common perceptions of their kind. In true Lord of the Rings style, an artefact must be retrieved and flung into the depths.

In all a coherent and quite interesting adventure provided you like slogging through swamps. There's plenty of fighting to be done, but it's not as puzzle heavy as some adventures in this line, although some reasoning is needed to find out what is going on and how to put a stop to it. It should prove a nice episode in your campaign.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #17: Legacy of the Savage Kings
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #16: Curse of the Emerald Cobra
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2018 08:20:12

The very title of this adventure is redolent of a pulp classic, and the plotline is filled with jungle outposts and evil cultists and legends from the past...

There are various ideas for how to get the party involved in the adventure, not all of which have anything to do with what they are actually getting themselves into! That's a neat touch as they'll be expecting something quite different. Scaling information, a random monster list, and some background notes are also supplied to help the DM get organised. There is also a rather small map of the tropical island on which the adventure is theoretically located, although any suitable remote jungle area with an extinct volcano in your own campaign world will do.

Quite a lot of the background is information that the party should have little difficulty in discovering once they know they are heading this way, indeed much of it is common knowledge... not, of course, that it's all correct. A vanished mage and attacked caravans ought to be enough to get the party investigating anyway, never mind those rumours of an ancient evil set loose once more...

The actual adventure begins at the base of Mount Icpitl, the extinct volcano, under which, 'tis said, the ancient evil once had its lair. Getting them there is left to you. Once inside the underground complex the delve proceeds apace, with plenty of monsters to fight and puzzles to solve. Many of the puzzles are supported by handouts that let the players see what their characters do, hopefully this will aid them in figuring them out. The second part of the adventure, within the crater of the extinct volcano itself, is quite combat-heavy (and comes with hints for how to reduce that if you so wish). One thing to watch out for is poison. The Bad Guys use it a lot, so expect to see plenty of Fortitude saves. There's quite a good mix of encounters where those encountered might be willing to talk - if approached the right way - and ones where a brawl is going to ensue without the option.

The third and fourth parts involve the exploration of a pyramid in the centre of the extinct volcano. There are plenty of hostiles to fight and some interesting items to, er, liberate. The adventure ends in a swirl of a mad sorceress and a ruthlessly ambitious yuan-ti, who must be defeated, and there's always the question of what to do with the staff bearing a gemstone said to hold the spirit of the original Emerald Cobra... some suggestions here hint at the possibility of continuting the adventure, although you'll have to write that for yourself.

It's an exotic setting, with ancient evils rubbing shoulders with contemporary living lizardfolk and more, combat-heavy but exciting, and with possibilities for further development. A very pulp or Conanesque feel to the whole thing.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #16: Curse of the Emerald Cobra
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #15: Lost Tomb of the Sphinx Queen
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/26/2018 08:14:38

Now there's a dramatic start for an adventure! You visit a venerable sphinx prophet, but as soon as he claps eyes on you and your party he attacks! Apparently he decided that you were the heroes predicted of old, who would deal with an evil sphinx queen and destroy her crown. Just why the old sphinx chose to attack over this may become apparent...

Naturally, there's a detailed backstory that explains most of what is going on (but not why the sphinx prophet attacks the people he's been awaiting for a very long time!). There's also the usual scaling information, wandering monster list, and other bits and bobs to aid you in preparing to run this adventure.

What follows is a spectactular puzzle-oriented delve with many delightful features such as images of the party included in the murals - well, their eventual arrival had been prophesied millenia ago! There are undead to fight as well, and deadly traps to circumvent. Even though this complex was built by those who wanted to imprison the evil sphinx queen, whom they could not slay themselves, until the promised party arrived to do the job for them, they certainly did not make it easy.

The tomb consists of three levels, the last being accessible only if you can figure out a teleportation system. Descriptions are vivid and detailed, back-up information is comprehensive, and there are loads of handouts to produce at appropriate moments so that the players can see what is being explained to them.

This is a really tough and demanding delve that should challenge the party and - should they survive to the end - give them a real sense of achievement. It's excellent for parties who enjoy pitting their wits as well as their swordarms against whatever the dungeon holds. A true classic!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #15: Lost Tomb of the Sphinx Queen
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #14: Dungeon Interludes
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2018 08:07:59

A bit different from other offerings in the Dungeon Crawl Classics line, this book provides six loosely-linked complete adventures to weave into an ongoing campaign. As the party rises in level they unravel more and more of a dastardly plot being hatched by an ancient mage and (hopefully) find a way to thwart it!

Each adventure is well-suited to challenge a party at the level for which it is written, and all provide information that links on to the next one, although it's recommended that you do not run them back-to-back, but intersperse other adventures. The idea is that the overarching plot is rumbling away in the background, and that the party occasionally interacts with it, beginning by meeting some of the mage's minions scavenging for a certain item in a place where they happen to be right on up to the final adventure when they actually confront the mage. Each adventure provides good reasons for completing it, and is well-resourced and ready to run in a session or two. Maps and room descriptions are up to the usual high standard. The first adventure involves a delve through a cramped underground druidic community, complete with places that the party will have to squeeze through (unless they are exceptionally skinny)... but there's something down there that the mage would dearly love to have.

Subsequent adventures involve a visit to the crypt of a long-dead paladin which appears to have been defiled, an attack on the party by a drow assassin which leads to a fine trap-based delve, the exploration of a mine which just happens to be building something that mage needs to further his plot, and a visit to his former tower before the party is ready to attack his current stronghold and put paid to his evil plots. It all hangs together quite well - it's nice to have delves with a purpose beyond trying to find items to steal!

Overall, this is recommended if you want a bit of a story arc without having every detail of every adventure you run woven into it. Spread these out with other adventures in between and you'll give your party a sense of purpose without getting too far away from the series' approach of going into dungeons just because they are there.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #14: Dungeon Interludes
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #13: Crypt of the Devil Lich
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/19/2018 08:52:38

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.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #13: Crypt of the Devil Lich
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Conan the Barbarian
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2018 10:24:28

Being a barbarian isn't about being rough, rude, violent and uncultured... it speaks of a rugged vitality that more civilised places seem to have lost. This book surveys the 'barbarian' lands of the north: Asgard, Vanaheim, Hyperborea, and Cimmeria (where Conan himself came from). Legends, lore and facts swirl together to present new realms in which adventures may be set, along with a complete system for barbarian raids, and much more.

After a brief introduction showing how the north has been the subject of academic study from Conan's time onwards, we launch into Chapter 1: Barbarian Characters. This is filled with detailed notes and resources for anyone wanting to play a barbarian character, including backgrounds and castes specifically suited to them. The idea is that you use the standard system as given in the core rulebook, but swap in the new options as appropriate. New archetypes include bards and slavers, and there's plenty more to help you create an effective barbarian-themed background for your character. There is new equipment too, items unique to the north and well-suited to its rigours.

Next, Chapter 2: Gazetteer - the main part of the book - presents a detailed view of the lands of the north. History, notes about the peoples that dwell there, far more than a mere description of the geography and settlements of the region. There's a wealth of information here: tribal customs, beautiful maps, notable places to visit and people to meet, and much more to make the north come to life as a place to visit or one to call home.

This is followed by Chapter 3: Events, which presents a series of events that Northern characters are likely to know about and have probably attended, and which visitors can be caught up in, like it or not. Traditions, cultural forces: events and challenges and occurances that can catch the party up and remind them of where they are. There's the Thing, a week-long festival that mixes trading, sporting contests, law-giving, feasting and more in a dizzying kaleidoscope, replete with opportunities for adventure (particularly for parties that like intrigue). Many people are nomadic or seminomadic, so migrations can form a large part of their life - and provide consoderable scope for adventure. This chapter also deals with raids - a major part of barbarian economy. It's a bit abstract on the grounds that raiding is decidedly unheroic. Still, there's ample material for running a raid which the party may come across or get caught up in. There are also some notes on ship battles - think Viking longboats.

We next take a look at Northern beliefs and traditions in Chapter 4: Myth and Magic. Some of their habits seem strange to outsiders, it's fun to play on this as a character from barbarian lands, or spring them on a party visiting the region. This is followed by a chapter-full of Encounters - a selection of NPCs, animals and monsters the party may meet during their travels.

Chapter 6: Hither Came Conan serves as a potted history of the great one's early years (including a character sheet from around the time he left the north), and this is followed by Chapter 7: The Barbarian Way. This discusses running campaigns involving barbarians - perhaps a war band or raiding party, or the young adventurous individuals from one settlement or tribe. There's loads of ideas for things that might go on during such a campaign, many of them common milestones and happenings in barbarian life such as rites of passage, courteous behaviour when a guest, social contests like boasting or riddle games... and the way in which barbarians wage war and comport themselves on the battlefield. Not to mention the duels that occur when nights are long and tempers run short. There's a vast list of events to liven up carousing. Finally, the last short chapter contains a detailed write-up of a barbarian character - perhaps the party will meet her, or one of the group fancies playing her.

If your campaign ever looks north, or you have a party member who wants to be a barbarian like Conan himself, this book will become essential, in the meantime it provides useful information about a fasincating part of the campaign world.



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Conan the Barbarian
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Conan: The Book of Skelos
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/15/2018 08:59:28

In most fantasy games, magic is embraced as a useful tool, the use of which any character might aspire to, with many respected practitioners and often centres of learning where budding magic-users may study. It's not quite like that in Conan's world. Magic is scary, often evil, and many of those who wield it are power-hungry villains using their power to further their own selfish if not wicked ends. For most, magic is a black art to be feared and avoided.

This book, however, provides you with an enhanced set of rules to enable magic to feature large within your game. You may wish to increase the threat posed by wicked wizards, or perhaps one or more player-characters wish to learn dark secrets against the advice of everyone who knows them, and probably even their mothers.

Part of the introduction is 'written' by an academic from Miskatonic University in the 1930s, reporting on his study of the legendary tome, the Book of Skelos. Then the nine chapters that make up the work are described. These include the history of sorcery, a collection of magic artefacts, and an array of 'horrors' that will leave you quaking in your boots if not scared clean out of them. If that's not enough, there's also a section on Kingdoms of Dream and Nightmare: spirit and dream realms that the brave may visit... if they dare.

For those characters who wish to study sorcerers - or maybe become one themselves - there is a chapter on Sorcerers in the Mortal Kingdoms, covering the different types of magic that have arisen and where, as well as another chapter about Sorcerers and their Followers. This explains how sorcerers form cabals and societies, gather followers, and - inevitably - plot and scheme against one another. Aspiring sorcerers will find Chapter 6: Advanced Rules for Sorcery of use. It contains new origins, archetypes and backgrounds, and delves further into how sorcery is done, along with new forms like necromancy, astrology, mummery, and herbalism.

There is also a chapter on running sorcery campaigns. Sorcerers are about as hard to herd as cats, so this section contains ideas and advice about guiding them, and of course the forces and goals that may be applied. Finally, there's an extremely detailed sorcerer character - Serafus of Numidia - which can be used by the GM or indeed a player. He's quite young as sorcerers go, but from a wealthy family and eager to search out knowledge wherever it may be. Perhaps he'll hire the party to find an item or volume for him, or even come along for the adventure. As a player-character, maybe he has decided that the best way to discover further knowledge is to become an adventurer himself.

Even if sorcery takes a background role in your game, or is practised only by a few antagonists, this is an excellent work to bring sorcery to vivid life on your tabletop. Once you have a major villain who practises the dark arts, or a player who wants their character to venture into these dangerous waters, it really comes into its own.



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Conan: The Book of Skelos
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #12.5: Iron Crypt of the Heretics
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2018 08:12:27

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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Dungeon Crawl Classics #12.5: Iron Crypt of the Heretics
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #12: The Blackguard's Revenge
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/11/2018 08:41:55

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.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #12: The Blackguard's Revenge
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