Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/21/tabletop-review-dungeon-crawl-classics-81-the-one-who-watches-from-below/
So, a little back story on this one before we begin. Back on Free RPG Day 2012, Goodman Games gave us an excellent set of two adventures if you were lucky enough to snatch one up. In the back was a partially done map and a contest. You could finish up the map, write an adventure and send your piece in to Goodman Games. The winner would get a cool thousand dollars and eventually see their adventure in print. Well, The One Who Watches From below was the winner. Generally contest adventures aren’t top tier releases because they are tied to a theme or something else that limits full-on creativity, but I’m happy to say that The One Who Watches From Below is an incredible adventure that is well worth investing in.
Frist up, let’s talk about that amazing cover art by Doug Kovacs. Man is it as gorgeous as sit is super creepy. That is one ominous piece and the art alone makes you want to purchase the adventure just to find out what it is about. Then the next page of the piece is a full piece of art. It’s a well drawn spooky dungeon, but your eyes will almost instantly go to the middle of the page where you will see a pair of eyes looking back at you. The eyes are surrounded by a set of dotted lines and instructions telling you to cut them out for use with the adventure. Curiouser and curiouser! This one two punch of a great art and cryptic instructions should be enough to convince any gamer to give this adventure a try. You look at the cover and this first page and any OSR gamer worth their salt just wants to know what ELSE waits them in this adventure. I will say that due to the cutting out aspect of these eyes, the PDF may be the better way to go. That way you can print out multiple copies of the eyes and not ruin your original purchase.
The One Who Watches From Below is designed for six to eight Level 1 characters. It’s a very Lovecraftian entry with names of otherworldly beings like Shigazilnizthrub (along with a cameo from old Wizard Whateleley) and other monsters that will drive a man insane as assuredly as it will rend their flesh. This is definitely a very challenging adventure for the neophyte characters and some PCs will definitely meet a gruesome end in this one. The adventure is also a very long one for a DCC affair. There are three full page maps in the back of the book, each one is a work of art. The text suggests that you can streamline this adventure to one four hour session, but more than likely it will play out over several meetings with your gaming troupe. That’s a great value for the price point when you think about it. The first map also contains Handout A, which is another reason to go PDF over dead tree for this adventure, as you can cut it out without ruining the gorgeous maps. I always say that DCC has the best maps in the industry and The One Who Watches From Below only adds to that sentiment. They’re almost worth the cover price of this adventure alone just so show how stylish a map can be while still retaining its function.
The PCs have made their way, for whatever reason (greed, curiosity, a need for fame, outright stupidity) to the Cave of Secrets. Beneath the cave lies the temple of a god long forgotten by the world, but still both active and malicious. Within the cave awaits a lot of treasure, some horrific monsters and a very strange curse that will stymie both players and their characters alike. The Judge is advised to be exceptionally strict with the rules of the curse, and I concur. It will be frustrating at first, but the curse (which without spoilers, involves those eyes I mentioned you needed to cut out earlier) can be a lot of fun to play out. It really tests a player’s role-playing ability and ensures that The One Who Watches From Below will be a highly memorable affair for all who play it. I can’t say too much more without some huge spoilers, but rest assured, as strange as the requests the DM will make of the PCs are, it is well worth it in the end. This also highlights how outside the box Dungeon Crawl Classics is compared to most other fantasy games, as you’d never see an adventure this weird in Pathfinder or for modern D&D.
You’ll have four levels of locations to traverse. The first is the Cave of Secrets itself. The second is simply known as The Temple. The third is called The Brood Pit and the final is simply the Under-Temple. Now you won’t find a lot of combat in the first two levels, but what battles there are can be quite intense. Death by angry books is a distinct possibility, for example. The further into the adventure you get, the more powerful (and frequently occuring) the monsters are, with the final battle being SNK End Boss bad, to put things in video game terms. It’s far more powerful than the players and expect a pretty high death toll, even for a DCC adventure. While fans of other games might be a bit put off by this climactic encounter, longtime DCC gamers are pretty used to characters dying in horrific ways and this will just be part of the fun for them. Still, because of how overpowered the end battle is, The One Who Watches From Below probably isn’t the best choice for someone’s first ever DCC adventure. A little too much culture shock, you know. For people like myself who play through a lot of published DCC adventures (both first and third party), I really loved the final fateful showdown and I think the same will go for other diehard fans of the system. The Primordial Titan with haunt your nightmares. That’s all I can really say because I want you to experience the sheer horror for yourself.
Overall, Goodman Games has released another fantastic must-buy adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics. Between this and Intrigue at the Court of Chaos, the first party DCC releases have been extremely impressive. It’s going to be hard to keep up this level of quality but by all means I’m excited to see Goodman Games try. Usually adventure contest winners can be pretty terrible like Chaosium’s recent Horror Stories From the Red Room. The One Who Watches From Below however is one of the better adventures I’ve reviewed this year and hopefully we’ll see more DCC pieces penned by Mr. Jobe Bittman in the future. Congratulations not just to Job for winning, but for DCC fans everywhere for getting the chance to add this adventure to their collection!