Tuesday, 20 March 2018

[REVIEW] Halls of the Minotaur


DCC #35A: Halls of the Minotaur (2006)
by Harley Stroh
Published by Goodman Games
0-level funnel

Halls of the Minotaur
We knew we were royally fucked one minute into the game, in round one of our first encounter. Two PCs had just gone down in combat, and it was clear we were both outnumbered and outclassed by our enemies. We had miscalculated the odds, and were on a suicide mission right from the first step. One of my characters had a Strength of 3, and another was a hobbit haberdasher with a pair of sharp scissors; our opponents had real weapons, including crossbows, and they were dug in in an ambush among the bushes. Then it happened. In the face of certain death, you might as well give it your best shot, and go all out. We rushed them out of sheer desperation and hacked at them until they went down and we won. Then we won and won again while expecting the worst, usually at terrible costs, but we got better and won some more. And we killed the minotaur.

This combination of overwhelming odds and reckless heroism is the addictive idea Goodman Games had hit on with what would eventually become the DCC “funnel” concept, pitching a handful of zero-level nobodies into the meat grinder and seeing what comes out at the other end: ideally, a few battered heroes, and lots of bloody paste. The play style is one way to achieve an approximation of the low-level D&D experience under 3rd edition rules, and it has been canonised in the DCC RPG as an element of the character creation process. DCC’s power level is a kind of compromise between the 3e and old D&D approach – the characters are fragile, but there are mechanisms and extra abilities to compensate for that weakness, including a post-battle body recovery rule (essentially a saving throw against actually buying the farm). In this review, I am looking at one of the early examples of these “grinder” modules; it was originally made for 3.5, while we played it at a convention DCC game, with six players running three zero-level characters each. The review will also contrast how the module reads vs. how it was run by our GM.

As mentioned above, Halls of the Minotaur pits a bunch of hapless villagers against a marauding minotaur and its underlings. The action begins in a monster-infested forest, before it moves into a dungeon dug into a steep cliff, then a citadel on top of the cliff. Most of the keyed encounters begin as combat encounters – you move into a new area, fight a group of monsters (and if you are careless, deadly reinforcements), then you can check out the local details. Setpiece combats in cool locations – at a forest ambush site, before a demonic idol flanked by braziers, on a rope bridge, etc. – serve as the key attraction. The module has an element of infiltration/stealth that can make the combat situations (the preparedness and grouping of enemies) easier or harder, and the PCs will need all the advantages they can wrest from their environment. There is also an element of non-linearity that is almost real and feels real for about half of the adventure, but turns out to be largely illusory (there are a few branches and alternate routes early on, but the true way through most of the place is one way only, and the rest are blocked off by increasingly contrived ways).

As a typical feature of the early DCC modules, the room descriptions often give you the kind of wacky, imaginative room ideas you’d get in the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks – say, a dragon’s head rising out of an underground river, or a throne room concealing a deadly ambush, or fighting your way through the dungeon to emerge in a castle on top of the cliff – but they are somehow never actually as wild and out there when you interact with them. Likewise, the environment has layers of history and some really decent visuals, but again, it doesn’t amount to much, since it is a series of kobold battles in a fancier than average dungeon environment.

Or is it? This was an adventure that had gained a lot in the telling. Around the table – and remember, this was a casual convention pickup game – it felt real. Fairly standard areas took on a character they didn’t have in the text I read later. The desperation of the action – whose unfairness had turned us into crafty, vicious little opportunists – imbued the game with authenticity and a sense of working against time. Little touches to make the environment more mysterious – like turning some fairly standard kobolds into strange beastmen, or refining  standard encounters into indecipherable enigmas – gave it a touch of fantasy that had gone beyond the standard D&D playbook. That is to say, a good GM can do much with the material even with a fairly light touch; but also, this is a module with more untapped potential than it seems to have on first sight. It really did play better than it reads – had I come across it when I was still trying to find gems in DCC’s 3.5 module library in vain, I might not have seen the gem in the rough.

Which is not to say Halls of the Minotaur is a great module. It is a decentish one with typical design issues of its time and publisher. It always feels like the encounters are overwritten – much boxed text and followup writing are expended to say relatively little (developments in the old-school scene since 2006 have been massive in this respect). The 3.5 stat blocks are cumbersome, using mechanically complex methods to express interesting, but relatively simple ideas. I have already mentioned the other stuff. It is 12-16 decent pages lurking in a 32-page package (although with a Doug Kovacs cover and great illustrations by Stefan Poag). However, if you don’t mind giving it a thorough read and some thought to adapt it for yourself, the good stuff is more than enough to carry a fun, action-packed adventure.

The module credits its playtesters.

Rating: *** / *****

Saturday, 10 March 2018

[ZINE] Echoes From Fomalhaut #01 (NOW AVAILABLE!)

Beware the Beekeeper!


I am proud to announce the publication of the first issue of Echoes From Fomalhaut, my old-school fanzine. After a long time on the drawing board, the print version is available from the Shop.

What?
Echoes From Fomalhaut is an old-school RPG zine focused on adventures and game-relevant, GM-friendly campaign materials. Each issue is planned to feature a larger adventure module, accompanied by shorter scenarios, city states, and other things useful and interesting in a campaign. Rules-related material will be limited to a few pieces of interest. A long time ago, Judges Guild’s campaign instalments established the general idea, and that’s the road I intend to follow. A small city-state? An interesting wilderness area? An island ruled by a society of assassins? Guidelines for magical pools? That kind of stuff.

The philosophy of the zine is to follow the “Creativity aid, not creativity replacement” motto, and to treat its materials as departure points – to inspire GMs without restraining them by spelling out every mystery and filling in every blank.

The content will feature both vanilla and weird fantasy, mostly drawn from our home games, with occasional contributions by guest authors from the Hungarian old-school scene. Most of the articles will follow AD&D (well, OSRIC) conventions, but remain compatible with most OSR systems – and there will be detours.

An average issue is expected to run 32-40 pages plus the cover. The print edition, produced in the A5 format, is set to ship with larger extras like fold-out maps or what have you; the PDF edition will include these as downloadables.

Why?

I have always wanted to publish homemade game materials, an idea that has grown on me ever since I fell in love with the rough charm of Judge Guild instalments. I released my first PDF adventure in 2001, and the first printed one in 2003 (through my E.M.D.T. – First Hungarian d20 Society label – the first issue of Echoes is E.M.D.T. 46). Over the years, I have mostly stuck to free PDF releases and community fanzines (with the occasional detour, like the Helvéczia boxed set), but something has always been missing. This is an opportunity to fix that. Finally.

When?
The print edition is now available for order. A PDF/POD version will be published through RPGNow with a delay of a few months.

How much?
A print issue sells for $8.00 plus priority shipping ($3.5 to Europe, $4 to the US and worldwide). The price for the PDF edition is expected to be set around $5. POD is still TBD. All buyers of the print edition will receive a free copy of the PDF edition at the date of its publication.

This is slightly above the average in zine pricing (I did an Excel comparison of 39 OSR and indie zines, and they come out at $11.44 for print/worldwide), but gives you some 14,800 words worth of content per issue (not including the OGL and front/end matter), pays for the commissioned artwork, and Hungary’s prestigiously large tax wedge. I will also spend the proceeds on future publishing projects.

What else?

Since set up a sole proprietorship to make this thing work, I am planning to republish some of my older adventure modules with new artwork in a reader-friendly format. The first such module is planned to become available in May, to be followed by Echoes From Fomalhaut #02 in early Summer. In due time, once I have tested out how publishing works, I would also like to try my hands at a few larger projects. But first things first...


Assembling Installments

[ZINE] Catalogue


Echoes From Fomalhaut #02: Gont, Nest of Spies


Gont, Nest of Spies
A 44-page fanzine featuring adventures and GM-friendly campaign materials for Advanced old-school RPG rules, with artwork by Denis McCarthy, Matthew J. Finch, Stefan Poag, Andrew Walter and more. This issue contains...
The Four Wives of Xantun: fantasy scenario in the Dreamlands – what haunts the city-state of Hlanith, what does it have to do with lost love, and what is it about those flowers?
A Guide to Erillion: an introduction to the Isle of Erillion, a vanilla fantasy mini-campaign setting.
Eldritch Experiments: what happens when the PCs find an abandoned laboratory and start experimenting?
Does Energy Drain Suck? (and what to do about it)
Gont, Nest of Spies: all is not what it seems in the port town of Gont. Features adventure hooks, 21 keyed locations, treacherous NPCs and a lot of ways to get into trouble.
Down the Smugglers’ Walk: the tunnels and dungeons beneath Gont, and the secrets they harbour. 40 keyed locations from underground fighting rings to gateways to other worlds!
The Swine Lord: a small wilderness scenario featuring a valley with an unwholesome reputation, and those who aren’t bothered by it. 11 keyed locations.
* Also... a fold-out players’ map of the Isle of Erillion, and of the town of Gont!

Please note that your print order also makes you eligible for free PDF copies of your ordered items when they become available (should be a few months after the print edition). PDFs will be delivered via RPGNow to your regular e-mail address, unless you request otherwise.

Reviews:
Pookie, Reviews From R'lyeh: "Echoes From Fomalhaut #02: Gont, Nest of Spies is certainly lives up to the author’s aim of it being designed to present ‘good vanilla’, that is, standard fantasy, but with a heart. It presents good material in the main, but it feels just slightly bland, as if there should be stronger hook or reason for a gamer to want to use that material."

The Barbarian King

The Barbarian King
A 20-page adventure module for 4th to 6th level player characters, The Barbarian King pits the company against the ruined empire of the mountain barbarians... and the evil that still slumbers therein! This gloomy wilderness and dungeon scenario features deals with malevolent and ultra-powerful spirits, the burial places of a now defeated people, shadowy hosts and deadly traps. 

First published in 2002 as a standalone mini-module and in 2011 in an expanded version in Fight On! magazine, The Barbarian King has seen quite a lot of play in those sixteen years (and held up rather well at the table). It has been disassembled, reassembled, bootlegged on the DM’s Guild (no kidding) and put back together again. This edition has been re-edited for easy use, and includes illustrations by Matthew Ray (who also did the cover art), Stefan Poag and Denis McCarthy.


Reviews:

  • Bryce Lynch (2011 version): "This is a decent adventure; I was pretty happy with it."
  • Bryce Lynch (2018 version)"It’s got a GREAT vibe going on, and Gabor takes things just a little bit further than usual for an adventure, thinking about things just enough more to make things make sense. It’s a good adventure."




Echoes From Fomalhaut #01: Beware the Beekeeper!


Beware the Beekeeper!
A 40-page fanzine featuring adventures and GM-friendly campaign materials for Advanced old-school RPG rules, with artwork by Denis McCarthy, Stefan Poag, and past masters. This issue contains...
Bazaar of the Bizarre: a 1d100 table to generate strange merchants, with caravan guidelines.
The Rules of the Game: sets out the conventions followed in the zine.
The Singing Caverns: a two-level cavern system with 49 keyed areas, inhabited by orcs, bandits, and the mysteries of a bygone age.
Philtres & Dusts: a sampler of magical potions and dusts.
Red Mound: a mysterious adventure location found in the wastelands.
Morale & Men: a simple, fun set of follower and morale rules, written by two guest-authors.
The Mysterious Manor: the dilapidated manor house of an extinct noble family, now with new occupants... or is there more to it? 23 keyed areas.
Also... an unkeyed city map! (extra fold-out supplement)

Reviews: 
  • Steve C, Google+"This is a great example of what I love about RPG zines and the DIY OSR community: creator-written and published gaming material with a unique flavor and feel to it."
  • Pookie, Reviews From R'lyeh: "In setting out to offer ‘good vanilla’, that is, standard fantasy, but with a heart, the issue has certainly achieved that. (...) Echoes From Fomalhaut #01: Beware the Beekeeper! is an assured first issue whose teething problems will be easy to overcome for the second issue."
  • Vorpal Mace: "Don't let the small size fool you: this baby is jam-packed with actually useful articles."
  • Ynas Midgard: "Gábor aims for "good vanilla", and it is indeed some very sweet vanilla."
  • Bryce Lynch: "Terse writing, interesting encounters and a good map all combine to create a delightful little complex to explore … reminding me more than a bit of Thracia. Could there be a higher compliment?"
Yes, there is a downloadable sample!


You can buy these items at my Bigcartel store. They are also sold as PDFs on RPGNow with a delay of a few months.
Please note that your print order also makes you eligible for free PDF copies of your ordered items when they become available (should be a few months after the print edition). PDFs will be delivered via RPGNow to your regular e-mail address, unless you request otherwise.

How shipping works

I try to ship orders within a few days of receipt. I ship via the Hungarian Post, priority mail (there are no major price differences between priority and regular). The post uses the following weight ranges (one zine weighs about 90 grams, while a smaller module weighs 40-50 grams):
51 – 100 grams: Europe $3.5, Worldwide $4
101 – 250 grams:  Europe $5.8, Worldwide $6.6
251 – 500 grams: Europe $9.4, Worldwide $10.7
501 – 1000 grams: Europe $15.9, Worldwide $18.1

I package every zine in an envelope. For larger orders, I am packing the items in a larger, sturdier envelope that can safely fit around 8 zines. If you’d place a bulk order, we’ll probably need a cardboard box. Based on preliminary test mailings, priority mail takes a few days to reach most European addresses, and approximately 10-12 days to arrive in the USA. If your package arrives damaged, please contact me at beyond.fomalhaut@gmail.com with a photo of the damage.

Privacy Policy

In accordance with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the following privacy policy is in effect with respect to your orders:
  • Orders are handled by Bigcartel and Paypal, who have their own privacy policies.
  • Data collection: I store the following data to process and ship orders, and to maintain communication with you: your name, shipping address, and mailing address. Outside Bigcartel and Paypal's automated systems, I maintain an offline Excel spreadsheet for shipping data, and a cloud-based accounting program where I prepare and store individual invoices.
  • Data storage: I store your personal data for the purposes of fulfillment, customer service, and tax records. No personal data will be shared with public or private parties outside Bigcartel and Paypal unless required by law. Once the original purpose of the data storage is realized, your personal data will be erased. Local tax regulations require me to retain records for two years after my annual tax declaration (due in February after the current year).
  • I will not send you unsolicited e-mails. If you wish to be notified of new releases, I would recommend subscribing to this Google Plus collection. I will also post about new releases on this blog, and various forums.
Thank you for your understanding. Happiness, like the GDPR, is mandatory.

Thank You For Your Purchase!

Shipping times are subject to tropical storms, piracy, death, thermonuclear war, and acts of God.


Thank you for your payment. Your transaction has been completed, and a receipt for your purchase has been emailed to you. You may log into your account at www.paypal.com to view details of this transaction.

I try to ship orders within a few days of receipt. Based on preliminary test mailings, priority mail takes a few days to reach European addresses, and 9-12 days to arrive in the USA. If your package arrives damaged, please contact me at beyond.fomalhaut@gmail.com with a photo of the damage.

Please note that your print order also makes you eligible for free PDF copies of your ordered items when they become available (should be a few months after the print edition). PDFs will be delivered via RPGNow to your regular e-mail address, unless you request otherwise.


* * *


(If you have come here from some other direction, you suddenly feel a sharp pain and hear maniacal laughter before it all grows dark. Too late, you realise you have made a mistake trusting that link. Your lifeless body falls on the floor of the deathtrap dungeon.)

Friday, 9 March 2018

[BLOG] Aid, Not Replacement


He trusted them
RPG books: what are they good for? The question has recently been raised multiple times; by Joseph Manola in a blog post, by noisms in a response to that blog post, and in several increasingly irate blog comments by Kent. Whether they were meant that way or not, all of these posts challenge a central notion of this blog – that role-playing publications should be rooted in actual play, and be designed very specifically with actual play in mind. My common challenge to the readers is “Do you even play?” (I am looking at you guys – this means YOU, Kent!), and I mean it – I have been beating this drum for more than a decade. Their challenge, on the other hand, is “Is your stuff even played?”, and whether it is a general or a specific ‘you’, they are right.

A lot of RPG books, play-oriented or not, are never used in play – at least not the way they are published. While I play regularly, I mostly run my own stuff, and use premade modules for one-offs and the occasional mini-campaign. I review modules with an emphasis on playability, but I sure don’t play most of them. I preach homebrewing and the DIY gospel, and yet I publish stuff for others (which they don’t play). Hoisted by my own petard! And right at the point when I’d venture out into the wild to publish a fanzine!

Nevertheless, while these fine people make good points (not just in describing the reality of the RPG scene, but also in describing how books are “mined” for inspiration, or used for vicarious entertainment), I do not believe I am in the wrong. Instead, I want to return to a slogan pioneered by T. Foster  Creativity aid, not creativity replacement” – and another one by Mythmere – “Imagine the hell out of it!” Of course, they were restating and refining a point originally made by Bob Bledsaw all the way back: “All within are merely inspiration for the active and pontifical judges of the guild. Please alter, illuminate, expand, modify, extrapolate, interpolate, shrink, and further manipulate all contained to suit the tenor of your campaign.”

These mottoes articulate something about the flexibility of good game materials. Every game table creates a distinct, individual experience, something completely contrary to the carefully designed and professionally produced, but homogenised mass entertainment of our age. Even if we are creating the same kind of tales, every group of us creates them slightly differently. This variety and human element can be a liability with bad players (which is why some games erroneously try to safeguard us from bad game experiences through limiting rules), but it is one of the big things about RPGs in good company. No professional design can replace the magical unpredictability of co-creation, even if awkward and imperfect. It cannot be reliably bottled and replicated. Worse, trying to accurately reconstruct a spontaneously unfolding campaign will result in a structure that is at once rigid (because it doesn’t admit group tampering) and fragile (because the wrong move can shatter it); one that lacks the temporal dimension of a gradually forming campaign, as well as its evolutionary quality. This is the reason early TSR didn’t believe in the idea of packaged modules (and renowned module author Rob Kuntz still doesn’t) until Wee Warriors and Judges Guild broke the ice.

And yet good RPG supplements undoubtedly exist. They are the ones which lead to memorable adventures, great campaigns, and the kind of war stories you remember even after the campaign has been over and the group has long dissolved. It is about the supplements which spur your creativity and engage with your imagination. The random hook that hijacks the campaign. Doing things differently from the written text is not a bug, it is a feature. Repurposing a supplement and doing an extensive reimagination is a sign of respect, not disrespect. Of course, good game books also have to be particular. They need to bring something interesting to the table that wouldn’t occur to the GM – a new frame of thinking, an aesthetic which was previously missing from the campaign, encounters slightly outside the group’s comfort zone. The best of them combine the two aspects: “Wow! I haven’t thought of that!” and then: “Now what if I added penguins?

Tomes of ancient wisdom or unwieldy junk?
Spurring creativity is tricky. It is a fine line to walk, somewhere between a complete blank slate that tells nothing and gives you nothing concrete (the proverbial pad of white paper you can scribble anything on), and a dense structure which provides all the details for you, but takes over and gives you a novel where you and your group are both reduced to passive observers. This is, precisely, where structure and form matter. There are many ways of being inspired – people are inspired by fluff books, written game reports and all kinds of odd things (I have mostly sworn off fantasy and get my ideas from a steady diet of nonfiction and the daily news) – but where actual table use is concerned, there is existing good practice and there is a whole lot of bad practice. For the latter, you only need to look at the output of the larger PF and 5e publishers – they may pass as interesting bog reading, but put them on the table, and they are a bloated, lumbering mess full of encounters which read well but play terribly. For the former, there are some well-tested standards (like the good old location key or the relationship map), and some promising experiments (like hypertexting or the layout thingamajigs a bunch of people are into), and while the rest can be fairly good for inspiration and ideas, they are not directly suitable for running a game. It is no accident old-schoolers running their own campaigns value good information design and an expressive terseness: this is an approach which works, and works very well.

And here is where the old-school scene (or movement, or whatever) comes in. Our primary mission is not to produce interesting bog reading – although it is a possible side-effect. Our mission is to cultivate a certain idea of playing and running games, to disseminate its practices, to inspire others and be inspired. It is a creative community built on the exchange of ideas; that is, it is centred on discussion. All the publishing that grew up around it is secondary, and if it fell into pieces today, we would still be here tomorrow. (This is also why I see clear dangers in the OSR’s move from a DIY-oriented landscape to a much more consumption-oriented one.) The blog posts, forum threads, shared practice and, yes, supplements are part of that conversation, even if they are not immediately put to use. The goal is to let us improve our own games (which can mean different things for different people), and share our ideas with others so they might improve their own. This is our call to arms.

When it comes to actually publishing something, play-relevant, properly playtested supplements are key, because they spread the ideas of good gaming, and they have stood the test of table use. It works in the reverse direction, too: bad RPG books encourage dull play, inhibit creativity, and reduce us to passive consumers. Publishers can get away with it and even thrive for a while, but it will create a moribund gameing scene which will stagnate and eventually wither away (case in point, much of the Hungarian gaming scene). It matters to those of us who play! We should have safeguards against that happening. First and foremost, we should play, because that’s where the core of the hobby is. Second, we should discuss play: this is where a lot of things from forums to blogs to G+ come in. Third, we should support play: and support it with useable, well-thought-out, accessible materials, which do not fill in all the blanks, but support others in running their campaigns or trying interesting one-shots. Fourth, there is no fourth point. That’s all we need.

Have old-school products served their purpose in reintroducing a certain idea of playing and designing RPGs, and exploring the directions they can be taken? In a sense, yes. There is not much to be gained from another Swords & Wizardry, and perhaps not much more from a new restatement of Keep on the Borderlands (unless it is done in a particularly insightful way by someone who really gets it!), even if they will continue to inspire newer and newer home games across generations and editions. But – as it is evident from the state of gaming discourse beyond our small thought bubble, and from the quality of even many ostensible old-school products – there is still much to be done in doing interesting new things with our ideas, and spreading them through well-written and useful products which help, not replace or obstruct.

Finally, another point: sometimes good ideas have to be reiterated to remind us and let us refocus on what matters to us, or for the sake of new people. And this brings us back to the raison d’être of – no, not game products this time – old-school gaming itself.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

[REVIEW] Wrath of Grapes / Treasures of Lutello


Wrath of Grapes
Wrath of Grapes (2017)
by Matthew E. Kline
Published by Creation’s Edge Games
5th to 7th level

As I have written before, writing mini-adventures is a tricky thing, and I have come to the opinion that many more people can write a decent medium-length scenario than a small one. The balance between rich content and terse prose needs both talent and practice to achieve; no surprise, then, that so many people who try end up failing.

Wrath of Grapes is a mini-adventure from Creation’s Edge Games, who now have 34 S&W-compatible scenarios up on RPGNow. I picked up two with an interesting premise to familiarise myself with their output. This adventure starts with a creative and original idea I’d be really proud of if I came up with it. Three retired adventurers mistakenly establishing an exclusive vineyard and stirring up forces which first result in superb wine with random magical effects, then take over their operations. A lost wine collector sought by his irate wife. That’s a great start if there ever was one.

What we get instead is an overwrought introduction that could be summed up in one column without missing out on anything important, followed by a 7-page hackfest in a humdrum winery occupied by a bunch of vine monsters. Nothing is actually done with the grove beyond having a bunch of new monsters to fight, and some (admittedly interesting) magical plonk. There is not even a wilderness segment, only the winery, with a few over-written encounters in 12 keyed areas. You know the sort: “The foot locker holds some clean clothes, bedsheets, and assorted personal items.” “The double doors in the west wall conceal a closet holding a variety of tools for doing minor repairs on wine barrels.” Not much to do except meet rampaging vinelings, or rescue the hapless owners and their guest. The map, made with some kind of tile-based mapping programme, is barely readable when printed in greyscale. The rewards for the expedition, some 6200 gold pieces, seems unearned.

This is one splendid idea spun into a fairly dull one-note affair. You could spin these ideas into a funny, magical, and maybe darkly grotesque adventure, with enchanted vineyards, haunted cellars and a winery/grove at the middle of it. The material should practically write itself, just go wild with your imagination. This obviously didn’t happen here. Keep the adventure seed, and write something better.

No playtesters have been listed for this module.

Rating: * / *****

Treasures of Lutello
Treasures of Lutello (2016)

by Matthew E. Kline
Published by Creation’s Edge Games
3rd to 5th level

Treasures of Lutello is a small tomb-robbing scenario, with a twist: the tomb was constructed by a jester to have a laugh at the expense of self-important adventures. The result is a short, linear mini-dungeon with 10 keyed areas, using a Dyson Logos map as a base.

Similar ideas were sometimes explored in 2nd edition AD&D (the poncy jester edition), most successfully in Deadly Treasure from Dungeon Magazine #41, where an archmage’s magic items were fashioned into elaborate dungeon traps in a great take on the Tomb of Horrors trap dungeon formula. This scenario is a lot more modest, and the traps are more annoying and random than deadly and systematic. It is mostly a series of carnival tricks: the more annoying sort reduces the players to passive observers while having a laugh at their expense, while the better ones are somewhere between oddball randomness and straightforward encounters with a wacky veneer. There is a talking hand puppet dragon, a colourful combat encounter with wooden puppets dressed as brigands, a magical lake you can dive into, but it is more bang than actual substance. At the end, there is some treasure you’d expect to find in a jester’s tomb (actually, a whole pile of 23 low-rent magic items dumped in the characters’ lap – ranging from the invisible whoopee cushion to a scabbard that turns blades into rusty junk). The best part is the very first encounter, a massive sneezing dust trap combined with a gang of irate bugbears, which should allow the players to kill themselves in entertaining ways.

Like Wrath of Grapes, Treasures of Lutello is built on an idea that’s not half bad, and it is easily the better of the two modules – more imaginative, more magical and more fun. But if it feels like something is missing, you’d be right: it is still very far from a well-rounded, imaginative scenario that’d make for a great evening’s worth of play. Trap- and trick-based dungeons should reward clever ideas and improvisation, and that element is missing here in the randomness. The scope is too small: it never feels like a properly expansive dungeon, while it lacks the punch of a nice, dense lair encounter. These two adventures feel too much like 2e filler from Dungeon Magazine’s Side Treks series.

No playtesters have been listed for this module either.

Rating: ** / *****