Goddess of the Crypt (2019)
|Goddess of the Crypt|
Into the Odd is one of the worthwhile old-school D&D spinoffs of the last decade: it has a strong vision, simple but well thought out mechanics, an interesting implied setting, and a well-structured game framework which encourages going out on hazardous but lucrative adventures. It is kind of like OD&D for a rusty and very weird Victorian England; a place where you might encounter morlocks, Martian war-machines, occult mysteries and temporal/spatial anomalies, and where your beginning characters are largely disadvantaged nobodies hoping to make it big by hook or by crook. Like OD&D’s beginning murderhobos, there are bizarre and dangerous dungeons to plunder and occult treasures to unearth. Like OD&D’s name-level characters, the endgame involves retiring as wealthy and powerful eccentrics, and there is a pre-built career path to reach that destination.
What Into the Odd is missing is the same thing niche games tend to miss: a steady support of interesting, well-thought out adventures (Silent Titans, which uses the game system, and even includes its core rules, is the major exception as a full-length campaign). This is a shame, because, ItO is precisely the kind of game that’s fairly easy to develop scenarios for, and a good fit for smaller, pamphlet-sized projects. So here we are: Goddess of the Crypt is a published ItO mdule – and a fairly well hidden one.
The adventure takes the characters, working on behalf of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, into a temple populated with serpent-men and super-science. A previous expedition has been lost down there, and it may also be swell to uncover some of the precious artefacts they have been looking for. This is a dungeon with 11 main keyed areas, which is not much, although most of the rooms have a neat multi-layered complexity with multiple things going on. This complexity is both a boon and a hindrance, as the module is structured in a nested bullet point structure
- that theoretically makes information well structured and easy to find,
- unless there are several levels of the bullet points and the information is scattered among them
- in a labyrinthine way
- no kidding, it really looks like this
- sometimes there are five levels.
Obviously, this is a wee bit too much of a good thing, and ironically makes the text harder to decipher than just sticking with boring old paragraphs.
What makes Goddess of the Crypt worth checking out is the dungeon itself. It has the spirit of OD&D’s “mythic underworld” concept, working more along the lines of loose association than strict logic. As a temple/crypt, the dungeon has somehow established connections with laboratories and extra-dimensional pockets. It mixes meso-American feeling snake temples with early 20th century weird (pseudo-)science-as-magic devices. It has superb ideas like a bas-relief of one-eyed men serving as an opening mechanism for a secret door (opened with a freshly plucked eye), or an enchanted key that fits every door, but turns them into an entrance to a specific extra-dimensional place. There is a roster of monsters representing various stages of serpentile evolution and cross-breeding, and bizarre monsters from dimension X. It is an interactive dungeon with imaginative things to mess with.
However, it is still more a first step in a great direction than a fully formed dungeon that hits all notes. The map’s frequent use of one-way doors introduces some interesting choices, but also results in inevitable backtracking, and turns a seemingly non-linear dungeon level into a significantly more restricted one. At least if I interpret the map correctly: some of the door symbols are deceptively similar, and for something done with a mapping programme, it is surprisingly hard to read. I also believe the contents could have been spread out a little more with the good use of empty rooms (and less pointlessly winding corridors, unless that is part of the snake theme). The issues with structuring information have already been covered. I would be interested to see further releases from Vagabundork, with a slightly less fragmented structure – the potential is there, if the presentation can be improved somewhat.
No playtesters are credited in this publication.
Rating: *** / *****