Tuesday 31 March 2020

[REVIEW] The Lost Crypt

The Lost Crypt
The Lost Crypt (2020)
by Bill Silvey
Published by Necromancer Games
Levels 7th to 8th

[Disclaimer: I have, on multiple previous occasions, done freelance work for Necromancer Games and their successor Frog God Games.]

The Lost Crypt comes from the remains of a lost manuscript: The Teeth of the Barkash-Nour, one of the Castle Greyhawk offshoot scenarios Gary Gygax had drafted, but never completed. In the mid-2000s, when hopes were high that Greyhawk (or “Castle Zagyg”) would see the light of day for the Castles and Crusades RPG, Gary had drafted Bill Silvey (a.k.a. “The Dungeon Delver”) to develop his notes into a full treatment. This work, while completed, never saw the light of day due to publication delays, and later Gary’s death in 2008. The current module, a much shorter affair, is constructed from the material Bill had added to the original, and now released as a standalone adventure. As such, this adventure bears a peculiar distinction: it is not a Gary Gygax module (all of Gary’s material had to be excised, and the remaining text repackaged), but it bears his blessings on an encounter-by-encounter basis, and indeed, hews close to his style and design approach. Despite the different theme and level designation, it felt most like the Moathouse dungeons from The Village of Hommlet (although without the charismatic villain).

The Lost Crypt in its current form is a relatively small scenario, with 23 keyed areas and a bugbear lair featuring nine more. It is an Egyptian-style dungeon set in an extraplanar setting (although this element plays no further role beyond the setup, and can be safely altered). It is best described as a gauntlet of archetypal dungeon challenges. It is structured in a very linear way, with encounter after encounter in a mostly straight line. You arrive, deal with whatever the location throws at you, and move on. Every keyed area has something to deal with – combat, and not puzzles per se, but the kind of dirty GM tricks which require a good combination of courage, caution and thinking on your feet to solve. The bugbear lair, continuing the adventure where the tomb ends, is a tough combat encounter with organised, intelligent humanoids helped by their high HD. There is a nagging sense something is missing – a more grand set-piece encounter, a find that makes you go “Whoa”, a dirty trick that leaves the players shaking their fists in mock anger. This is not there in the adventure, and it gives it an unfinished feeling. As is, it just sort of ends.

The writing is clear, no-nonsense stuff, about what you would find in an early AD&D module – there is some boxed text of the helpful sort, and some environmental detail, but nothing too bad. The phrase that comes to my mind concerning the whole adventure is “well crafted” – nothing jaw-dropping, but everything is in its proper place, and it is a fine test of dungeoneering skills. There could be more of it, or it could use a more interesting layout, or end with more of a bang, but for a side-adventure, it is about the right scope, and offers a versatile side-quest you can send your players on. It is a useful thing in a GM’s library.

No playtesters are credited in this publication. 

Rating: *** / *****


  1. Read it last week. It a charming module with several traps, tricks, and encounters that feel very Gygaxian. They made me grin and say "heh, classic" and imagine how my players would fuck up running into them. I have two issues with The Lost Crypt that bother me greatly.

    First, the golem encounter wastes two paragraphs to describe the conditions to avoid it which are impossible for the players to figure out if you follow the basic hook of the adventure. Writing "the golem attacks" would not have made a difference in gameplay.

    Second, the bugbear section feels like a filler bolted on to the main adventure. I can't even wrap my head around how the bugbear maps connect by looking at them.

    Still, it has a certain charm and I consider it one of the better adventures from the current NG series. I agree with the *** / ***** rating.

    1. Yeah, that classic feel is right on - hardcore Gygaxian. It would play well, and it is meticulously fair in killing off the party.

      I assume the bugbear caverns are the freagment of something larger. It does not fit. Or does it? Now it feels like a challenge.

    2. I can give a little history around the Bugbear encounter. You're right - it is "bolted on".

      When I created the Crypt (then called The Tomb) for Teeth of the Barkash Nour, there was an entire wilderness section with various bad guys and so on; the bugbears are keeping horses (for food), and are there for the party to trick or slay and get the mounts to allow them to more quickly traverse the savannas, swamps, and deserts of the pocket dimension the whole rather grand adventure took place in. So I apologize for that bolted-on feel.

      As for a larger scale, more stuff on it?

      To quote the G-Man, "I'm really not at liberty to say..." ;)