The Vault of the Whisperer (2017)
by James V. West, based on art, maps and names by Karl Stjernberg
Published in Black Pudding #2 by Random Order Creations
Here is a mini-module that works. The Vault of the Whisperer (published in issue #2 of the art-centric Black Pudding zine) is a small, flexible scenario describing a 13-area underground section in 8 pages. It is a real “module” module you can insert into a wider campaign where you need it. You could find the entrance in the corner of a larger dungeon, at the end of a half-forgotten alleyway in an ancient metropolis, in a haunted gorge in the wastelands, or behind an undisturbed door in the cellar of your favourite inn. It is all in medias res, no backstory or sociological essay, but that’s fine. It is self-explanatory why things are there and what you should do with them, with much of the ideas inspired by a great set of illustrations by Karl Stjernberg.
The dungeon is the small shrine of a weird cult worshipping a subterranean monster appearing as a really huge, chasm-like maw on the dungeon floor. It whispers strange and evil things that warp the mind, and will soon become an ongoing concern for the adventurers, adding an element of time pressure and unpredictability. Its followers, a gang of deformed weirdoes, are something out of a bad dream, and they are accompanied by creepies and crawlies including slimes and flesh-eating trilobites (love those guys). Unlike many modern modules, which give you five or six baddies to fight, here you’ve got dozens of relatively low-powered opponents in a relatively small space. It is all set up for a glorious massacre, backstabbing, madness and general mayhem, with considerable environmental hazards. The GM’s job is made easier by providing Hp dots for every monster – a rare but useful quality-of-life feature. The vault is also chock full of secrets and hidden stuff, often opening up new ways of dealing with the encounters, and giving the players one of multiple unique magic items, all of them dangerous, squiggly things with multiple hidden functions and grotesquely funny drawbacks.
The imagination on display is top-of-the line through the module, and for such a small place – a few crisscrossing tunnels and rooms leading to a cataclysmic confrontation – Vault of the Whisperer packs an impressive amount of content. It is well suited for weird fantasy and sword&sorcery campaigns.
A group of playtesters is listed at the beginning of the fanzine.
Rating: **** / *****