Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/24/tabletop-review-dungeon-crawl-classics-82-bride-of-the-black-manse/
As a big fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics, I love it when Goodman Games gives us an adventure that is actually two in one. Similar to the Free RPG Day 2012, The 13th Skull, and a few other adventures, you’re actually getting two adventures in this release for the price of one. How can you not love that? The first is Bride of the Black Manse, as you could surmise from the title. The second is Blood For the Serpent King. Black Manse takes up the majority of the booklet, with Blood For the Serpent King taking up the last eight. Both adventures come with fantastic art, maps by Doug Kovacs (The best in the industry) and are fully fleshed out so that gamers will really get their money’s worth. Of course with two DCC adventures, it just means more opportunities for PCs to die horribly. Let’s take a look at each adventure in this piece.
Bride of the Black Manse is designed for four to eight 3rd Level Characters, and the party should include one priest and one thief. Unlike most Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures which are heavy on well, dungeon crawling and light on nuanced in-depth story-telling, Bride of the Black Manse is sort of the mirror opposite. It is primarily story-telling and mystery solving, while being very light on the combat. Don’t worry hack and slash fans, there is combat, and even though it is sparse, expect to see at least one PC eviscerated. Hey, this is Dungeon Crawl Classics after all. You play this game expecting characters to have a short life span, Call of Cthulhu style. Speaking of Call of Cthulhu, Bride of the Black Manse at times feels more like an adventure for that setting due to the amount of talking, discovery and otherworldly horror involved. Now if you’re a DCC fan that wants more roll-playing than role-playing, Bride of the Black Manse is probably not for you For everyone else though, you’ve got a great adventure that should appeal to longtime fans of the system., while also appealing to those who have eschewed DCC for being too combat heavy.
It’s also worth noting that Bride of the Black Manse is designed to be played in a single four hour session. This makes the adventure a fun one shot as well as a great choice to run at a convention. However the time constraint does mean that players have no chance of running through the entire Manse. Huge portions will be left undiscovered. This is okay. It’s part of the adventure. Some GMs may want to ignore that the adventure was designed for a single four hour session and let players go hog wild, exploring every nook and cranny. Whether that actually adds or detracts from the overall experience will depending on the GM and their troupe’s playing style, so mileage may vary. My suggestion is to play the adventure as is first. We’ll see why below.
So what is Bride of the Black Manse about? Well, it’s a tale about the fall of House Liis and how one person offered their soul to the devil Mammon in exchange for unholy power and the chance to rule. Well, they got their wish and like any good weasely antagonist, they found a way to protect their soul from Mammon’s clutches even if they couldn’t outright void the contract. Still, if there is one thing an immortal being has, it is time and so Mammon has waited many years to claim his prize and on the anniversary of the original deal being struck and the last of the wards losing their power, the PCs enter the picture. It’s up to the GM as to WHY the players have gone to the Manse, but that’s not too hard. The key thing is getting them there. Once inside the Manse, players discover they are all either reincarnations of members of House Liis or that the ghosts of Liis family members each chooses a PC as their champion. This is a key part of the adventure, so if you are the GM, make sure you know which path you are going to choose and which House Liis member corresponds to which character. Not keeping close track of this subtle but highly important detail can destroy the adventure.
Once the characters are inside the Manse, they must unravel its mysteries, deal with the plethora of evil spirits that dwell within and so much more. Of chief importance is keeping track of the time. The adventure begins at 9pm as the players enter the Manse and discover what they are in for. From the tolling of the first bell, the adventure then begins to unfold IN REAL TIME, which is why I mentioned you should play the adventure as written. An hour into the adventure it will be 10pm and the bell well toll once more. When this happens, the Manse will change in certain ways. This is also true when the bell tolls 11 and 12. Midnight is of course when the devil himself comes for his due. This gives players one last hour to solve the mystery of the Black Manse. Running the adventure in real time, really gives Bride of the Black Manse a unique feel as players will be scrambling rather than slowly inching their way through a dungeon. Having to rush through the Manse means things will be overlooked or missed as PCs have to make some tough choices. Some players won’t like being forced to play in real time as they are used to spending minutes agonizing over actions that would take seconds. Others will love the feel of the adventure and be quickly able to adapt. Again, it’s all in who you have at your table.
Bride of the Black Manse is simply an incredible adventure from beginning to end. I loved the creepy atmosphere, the mystery to be solved and the overall feel of the adventure. There’s nothing quite like Bride of the Black Manse and it’s worth picking up for any fantasy RPG, be it Dungeons & Dragons or one of its many retro clones. It’s the best horror adventure of 2014 so if you like pieces reminiscent of Ravenloft, you should stop reading this review right now and download/order this. Of course we still have another adventure to go in this twofer, so let’s start looking at it now.
Blood for the Serpent King is a more traditional adventure, designed for six to eight 2nd Level characters. It is a quasi-sequel to both DCC #16 Curse of the Emerald CobraThe Known Realms. You don’t see a lot of sequel adventures for DCC, so that makes this one special in its own right. It is worth noting that knowledge and/or experience with the two aforementioned adventures are not necessary. It’s more an Easter Egg or sly nod than anything else.
Blood for the Serpent King is a pretty straightforward affair. A group of serpent-men are looking to make a sacrifice on a very (un)holy night which will revive the Emerald Cobra himself, Xiuhcoatl. At the same time, the PCs wander in. There is no real setup for the adventure save for “Hey, ancient crypt! Let’s check it out.” Some GMs will want to put more of a story behind the reason why the PCs are tomb robbing while some know greed and looting are the only motivations their PCs need. Once at the crypt, players will have a straight up dungeon crawl. There are seven locations, each with their own encounter designed to whittle down PC hit point totals, if not outright murder them dead. You have your final climatic encounter with Xiuhcoatl, and that’s it folks. As I’ve said this is a pretty paint by numbers adventure, ESPECIALLY compared to Bride of the Black Manse, but that doesn’t mean Blood for the Serpent King isn’t a fun short little one shot for DCC fans. It’s a more traditional hack and slash affair and it makes a fine juxtaposition to the many mysteries of Bride of the Black Manse. Would I purchase Blood for the Serpent King on its own? No, I wouldn’t. Is it a great extra to have bundled in with the feature presentation? Definitely!
I absolutely loved this adventure set and it continues the trend Dungeon Crawl Classics has had this year of just putting out top notch outside the box pieces. With each adventure release in 2014 I wonder how Dungeon Crawl Classics is going to top itself…and then it does. Goodman Games is really on fire this year and like Intrigue at the Court of Chaos and The One Who Watches From Below, I can’t recommend Bride of the Black Manse enough. Even if you’ve never played DCC before, you should pick up all three adventures because they are so good you’ll want to pick up the core rulebook immediately afterwards and start converting your friends to the game. So far, 2014 has shaped up to be the year of Dungeon Crawl Classics and I’ve yet to see anything come close to touching it. Again, with three straight adventures that have blown me away, there has never been a better time to get into Dungeon Crawl Classics – so get started already!