It's probably worth putting a disclaimer in right at the start of what is likely to be quite a lengthy review. Firstly, I won't claim that I've read every word on every one of Castle Whiterock's 761 pages. However, having said that, I've had an extensive look through the product, reading the majority of the material, so I think this review will fairly reflect the material that's contained in Castle Whiterock. For those of you that don't want to read a rather lengthy review - this product is good, very good even. If you've liked similar products on the market, this one is as good or even better. As Dungeon Crawl Classics go, Castle Whiterock has parts in it that are far better than many of the single dungeon products in the DCC series. And it's fantastic value for money - this will most certainly keep a group of players entertained for a very long time. Now that that's said, on with the actual review.
Castle Whiterock is a mammoth 761 page pdf product and the 51st product in Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics line of products. This is their first mega dungeon adventure, and takes the PCs on a wild ride through the depths and history of the great Castle Whiterock. This mega dungeon takes characters from 1st to 15th level, or possibly even higher. Castle Whiterock is really suitable for any number of players (typically 4-6), but easily adapted (each level in the adventure provides scaling information) to other adventuring parties of different levels and sizes. This product is compatible with the revised d20 core rules. While it is set in Goodman Games' campaign setting, the world of Aereth and more specifically the Kingdom of Morrain, it can easily be converted into another campaign setting.
Castle Whiterock comes as four separate zip files containing the adventure material and support material. The download is 110 MB, so it might take a while if you're on a slower connection. The zip files contain an extensive overview of the Kingdom of Morrain, handouts, maps, four adventure booklets (cleverly in the same colors as the D&D boxed sets of the 80s as character and adventure level increases), pregenerated characters, a lovely poster map of the town of Cillimar and the lower levels of Castle Whiterock, and a very useful index and glossary. There are some useful bookmarks, although unfortunately not too detailed. The pdf content is completely background free for easy printing (and reading!), although parts of the product have included backgrounds in the pdfs (the gazetteer, for example), but a background free version of these is provided.
The production quality of this pdf is excellent. The maps are good and mostly clear (there are no legends so it's sometimes difficult to tell what the map is depicting without reading the area description), the handouts are fantastic, and the artwork in the pdf is mostly great (there are a few poor pieces in there, it should be said). In addition the editors and writers have done a fantastic job - both in the general product editing and the editing of the monster stat blocks which are included along with each encounter area's description. In 761 pages you're bound to find mistakes, and they're there, for sure, but overall I think Goodman Games have done a splendid presentation job on this product. I would even go so far as to say that this DCC product, despite its length, beats most of the other products in the DCC line for presentation and production value. And that's not even talking about content, which will give most other DCC adventures and other mega adventures/dungeon out there a good run for their money.
As one can expect from Goodman Games and their product and adventures, Castle Whiterock contains a whole host of new material, including skills, feats, spells, magical items and monsters. Those familiar with new monsters from other DCC products will find some of them here, and Castle Whiterock even provides a page detailing tie-ins to more than forty other DCC adventures and the events in those adventures. No stone is really unturned in this product - if you're looking for something, you'll find it there, from the smallest details to the more important ones. This is as complete an adventure as you will find - years of gaming fun in a single product.
On with the adventure itself. Castle Whiterock is a mammoth castle with more than 15 different levels. Each level corresponds to the appropriate character level, so level 1 is for 1st level characters, while level 7 is for 7th level characters. Many levels have sublevels or subsections for exploration, meaning that there are about two dozen different adventure areas to explore. The introduction provides numerous plot hooks through which characters can get involved in the story of Castle Whiterock. DMs may wish to even use more than one plot hook, although those that wish to 'kill stuff and take their loot' will find that there is plenty of opportunity to do just that. The plot hooks are fairly decent, although with such large mega dungeons, one always has to be concerned about plot exposition. Using multiple plot hooks will bring Castle Whiterock to life and will aid this plot exposition, and avoid having this good adventure and its story line turn into just a hack-n-slash adventure.
Plot exposition still remains a concern, and while many plots and subplots are detailed, not that many are completely revealed to the party, meaning that the adventure loses a little of its spark. While reading through this adventure, I was genuinely excited about what I was reading, and quite hooked on getting to see what the authors had done on the next level and how everything was going to turn out in the end. I couldn't help but feel, though, that most of this information is lost on the players. Some advice to DMs running through this adventure would be to ensure proper plot exposition of all the numerous ideas in Castle Whiterock.
That said, Castle Whiterock has a detailed, interesting and entertaining history, and one of the things I liked about this adventure was the way the history has become part of the story, and how the journey through Castle Whiterock reveals this history and bits and pieces to form a complete picture of Castle Whiterock through the ages. Again, the exposition is not perfect, but it brings Castle Whiterock to life as a bastion of struggles where things of consequence have happened and that these consequences are felt through the centuries. It means Castle Whiterock in more than just a 'place', it's something that has become legend in the area, and something that has felt the presence of good and evil through the centuries of its existence.
Around Castle Whiterock is the town of Cillamar where the adventure is in part based, and the entire Kingdom of Morrain. While Cillamar is integrated into the plot of the adventure in several ways, it forms only an early base for adventurers as they clear the first few levels of the castle. It would've been nice to see the town of Cillamar become more than just a brief stay, and become more integral to the story rather than just the initial plot hooks until adventurers tend to shelter in the dungeon itself. The Kingdom of Morrain itself, while fantastically detailed, has largely little bearing on the adventure, which is slightly disappointing.
The story itself, as mentioned, consists of several main plots and a number of subplots. In general the main plots, slavery for one, are fairly straightforward, but it's the details that make it an interesting adventure. The fifteen levels of the adventure allow characters to uncover many elements of Castle Whiterock as they follow the many storylines through the adventure. There are numerous quests and subquests to be had that parties can partake in as they adventure through Castle Whiterock, giving a little bit of variety in the overall plot. The levels of the dungeon fit together coherently, meaning that there are no levels that are there without good reason, or that don't form an integral part of Castle Whiterock's ecology or history.
Through the adventure characters will face pretty much every threat that one can imagine. While not every monster is present, and levels of the dungeon are generally arranged around a 'theme' or 'historical element', there are plenty of fun and unique challenges. Characters can white-water raft through subterranean tunnels, walk the paths of ancient academies, come face to face with the unlikeliest of allies, face monsters never seen before, and uncover the exploits of long-lost heroes in Castle Whiterock. There's plenty to be had here for adventuring - new monsters, great encounters, good villians, good back story and history, and interesting locations and terrain.
The adventure itself, though, has at times a bit of a 'video game' feel to it. The many 'themed' levels in the dungeon, the numerous hidden locations, the 'easter eggs' and other elements that one would associate with video games. For example, there are numerous subquests that often require specific items that are scattered across the levels. To complete these subquests will likely entail travelling up and down the levels of Castle Whiterock, because various items are distributed across the entire dungeon. This can be quite tedious if you're trying to solve a riddle or quest on the 9th level and can't find the hidden item on the 6th level, for example. I do like the subquests, though, as I think they add a lot of flavor to the adventure that's often needed beyond the main plot elements. There are some less interesting levels in there, and these side quests help to make them a little more interesting.
Castle Whiterock is an epic mega dungeon adventure, and one of the best I've seen. It combines a fantastical history and background into several plot elements that take the characters on an adventure through the multi-faceted halls of Castle Whiterock, revealing a location with life and history. The adventure features great encounters, adventure to be had, wonderful villains, great twists in the tale, and many hidden secrets waiting to be uncovered. On the down side, there are some tedious bits, the plot exposition needs to be carefully managed to avoid this getting boring, and the Kingdom of Morrain and Cillamar are not as involved as they could be. I'm torn with regard to how to rate this adventure, though. My gut instinct, the potential of the adventure to be great when run and the enjoyment I had in reading it give the product five out of five stars, but I think it could've been better and has its problems. I think one question that really needs answering is - is this the greatest story ever told as the adventure blurb suggests? I think it's one of the better ones, that's for sure. Based on that, I'll go with my gut instinct.
[5 of 5 Stars!]