by Jeff Simpson with Kim Kuffner
Published by Buddyscott Entertainment Group
Since Swords & Sewercery, Buddyscott Entertainment has established itself as a publisher of short PDF adventures. These releases are simple, matter-of-fact booklets around 12 pages each, featuring stickman art, homemade maps, and a surprising amount of good content. This post is a review of the most recent one, but the others are mostly similar in scope, style and quality.
[NOTE TO MY PLAYERS: STAY AWAY FROM THIS REVIEW!]
This is a fairly rare bird: a B/X adventure for relatively high levels. Most play these days is in the lower range, while this could be called an honorary “Advanced” D&D scenario. There are advanced challenges, the opponents use advanced tactics (they play dirty), and at this level, your characters will also have advanced capabilities. You can take punishment and you can dish out punishment, which the design takes into account. Not every puzzle or encounter has a straightforward, easy solution, you just have enough capabilities to wrest victory out of the adventure’s hands. Accordingly, this is a hard module for skilled players.
Featuring a cold mountain plateau, a glacial crevasse, and the abandoned HQ of a group of exorcist-knights now inhabited by a powerful night hag, the adventure has a frosty bite to it. The writing is compact and effective. It uses the right phrases to establish mood. A yeti lair: “Half-buried under drifts of snow are the bones of his meals, some still with frozen shreds of meat hanging by sinew.” A dragon menacing this part of the wilderness: “He can often be seen circling these mountains as a vulture would, looking for yaks to feast upon (…).” It is not overwrought, but it is good, visceral stuff. It has a barbarian gloom and a sense of savagery. The exorcist-knights were known to crucify witches on the plateau. You will also get to crucify a witch on the plateau, and will be challenged and tempted by your compassion in the process. The dragon is a beast who devours everything. One hook features a kidnapped princess, and you can find her in the dragon’s lair in the form of “rime-crusted bones”. A vicious trap is set up to take your right arm clean off. Another baits you into pulling a crushing border on yourself. It is refreshingly barbaric, and establishes an atmosphere of grim “might is right” sword & sorcery.
This is not an expansive scenario – 10 outdoor locations and a simple 15-room dungeon of square rooms – but the individual encounters are made with skill and care. There are strong traps that bait you effectively for the kill, but can be circumvented with caution, or walked into for the “should have known!” cred. (I really liked a frozen swamp with a magic sword pierced into an island, the glow around the blade being a will-o-wisp.) The combat encounters are tight setpieces with strong battle plans involving entrenched positions, incapacitation, and good use of monster powers and magic items, like a room of magical darkness inhabited by blindheims manning a pair of ballistae loaded with javelins of lightning. A bit gimmicky, but just enough not to feel wrong. It is not fair, and neither should you be. There are new magic items from the super-useful (fist wraps allowing you to throw “Bigby’s hand” spells) to the hilariously wrong (a set of gorilla arms that give you super-strength if you cut off your own by the stump… surely the trade deal to end all trade deals). This is an adventure filled with what D&D used to call “tricks”, and which have mostly fallen out of fashion. The Crypt of Terror brings them back and lives up to its name. You must rise to the challenge.
There are a few presentation issues. The text blends together a little without separated paragraphs, and monster names could have been bolded. Moreover, most of the monsters don’t have their stats listed, even though the module draws on a wide mix of creatures from the B/X rulebooks, MM, MM II, Fiend Folio, and even the Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume 4. You could look them up yourself and prepare a stat sheet, but the authors could also have done the same work and given you at least a stat sheet to prevent page-flipping and cross-referencing. Most of those are not even B/X monster books. Providing the stats and letting the text breathe a little would turn this into a 14 or 16-page module from a 12-page one, which is not much bloat. There is also a bullshit encounter with a quantum succubus that’s either a demon pretending to be a lost maiden, or a lost maiden used to trigger player paranoia; a “tails I win, heads you lose” setup. Not so good.
But all in all, this is the good stuff, the triumph of craft and imagination over spartan production values (I honestly like the stickman drawings). The Crypt of Terror and its companions are unpretentious, drawn from actual play, and made for actual play. They are a good addition to your campaign folder, which is why this one is going in mine. Some assembly required, but the fundamentals are really strong here.
This module credits its playtesters, as it is proper.
Rating: **** / *****