||Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/08/02/tabletop-review-dungeon-
Jewels of the Carnifex is the latest Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure put out by Goodman Games, creators of the system. Like most DCC adventures, there really isn’t a lot of setup for this hack and slash affair. You’re just given the hook of “Here’s a map to an ancient forgotten temple filled with treasure. Go to it.” As always, I’m disappointed that the creators of DCC adventures don’t put more of an impetus on why PCs are going through this dungeon but at least this particular DCC adventure steps up with a tremendous amount of back story for the DM to flesh things out to his or her own liking.
Jewels of the Cartnifex really turns the whole Law vs. Chaos concept on its head. Long ago, there was a godling known as Carnifex, whose followers embraced death, suffering and pain. The Carnifex became the patron goddess of executioners and torturers and was responsible for more than her fair share or hellish undertakings. Eventually a priest of light, life and law (alliteration!) stepped forwards to fell the foul cult of Carnifex. He and his swords of Pious were successful in imprisoning Carnifex within her own chthonic temple. However, it would turn out that this priest, Azazel of the Light was not quite as holy as he seemed as he and what remained of his warriors are now trapped within the Undertemple forced to guard over Carnifex until the end of days, the Carnifex is destroyed by a third party or the Swords of Pious are put down. It also doesn’t help that Azazel has become a living embodiment of life, causing living things within the Undertemple to grow massively in size as well as become covered in hideous tumours. The Knights of the Pious are completely mad at best and at worst, have become far worse than the Goddess of suffering they have entombed. Of course, the PCs have no idea any of this is coming. They’re just looking for treasure and a good battle. Little did they know they would be forced to take a side in an ancient battle between powers beyond their understanding.
I really liked the back story given throughout the adventure, along with the motivations of Carnifex and Azazel. It makes up for the lack of a PC hook and the further you get into the adventure, the more engrossed the Keeper and the PCs alike will become in what turns out to be far more than a simple ransacking. The whole alignment thing is thrown out the window with the Law side being backstabbing insane psychopaths and the chaotic goddess just wanting to be free…and get a little revenge on the side. PCs can choose to side with either or take them both out. It all comes down to who makes up the party.
Jewels of the Carnifex is written for six to ten Level 3 characters. That’s an insane number of PCs…unless you’re used to Dungeon Crawl Classics. These adventures ten to be both unforgiving and extremely harsh to player characters, almost to the point where the writers want there to be a “Keeper Vs. Players” conflict going on. It’s almost Call of Cthulhu-esque in that it’s a matter of how and when your character dies horribly, not if. So the more PCs you have, the more likely at least one of them is going to come out alive. As well, Dungeon Crawl Classics tends to suggest that players have more than one character each, although I find that when games do this, they become even more two-dimensional roll-laying sessions rather than role-playing. Still, it’s a convention of the system and when you realize six to ten characters means three to five players, it’s not as overwhelming and chaotic as it might first appear.
As I mentioned above, Jewels of the Carnifex is an exceptionally cruel adventure with several deathtraps from which there is little to no escape. It all comes down to luck and being overly paranoid that even the very walls of a dungeon are out to get you. I really enjoyed the final deathtrap as it definitely relied on players using their wits rather than hacking through things. You usually don’t see logic puzzles in a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, so, like the emphasis on story, this really helped make Jewels of the Carnifex stand out amongst the many other adventures in this line that are little more than dice hucking Monty Haul affairs.
Finally, I’d be remiss without mentioning the artwork in this adventure. From the cover art by Doug Kovacs to the interior art by five different talented artists, the adventure looks and feels like it has travelled through time from the 1970s Lake Geneva, WI. I’m a big fan of this art style and I especially love the maps that Dungeon Crawl Classics have with their adventurers. Jewels of the Carnifex is as much fun to read and to look at as it is to play through and that’s damn impressive.
All in all, this is one of the better Dungeon Crawl Classics adventurers since the series broke off from using the OGL to its own system of mechanics. I really enjoyed it and think it’s a definite must buy for fans of the DCC line. If your players require more of a setup or motivation than the old cliché of “Here’s a map, now go get the treasure.” You might have to spend a little time coming up with a better hook. Aside from that though, this is yet another hit for the Dungeon Crawl Classics system.
[4 of 5 Stars!]