by Ben Gibson
Published by Noisms Games
Levels 3-5 (or thereabouts)
Enjoy being lost In the Hall of the Third Blue Wizard? If so, this new zine/anthology edited and published by David McGrogan might be of interest. The following reviews will focus on the adventures in the recently published first issue. As the call for papers (appropriate, as the book looks and feels like a scholarly journal) specified, submissions would be expected to be between 2000 and 10,000 words, and they tend to be on the brief side. This is both an opportunity and a hazard. Constraints can encourage efficient writing, but they may also limit the scope and complexity of an adventure. It is a fine balance to walk. Appropriately, some of these reviews will also be on the short side. It is a fine balance to walk.
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Offspring of the Siphoned Demon describes a small, two-level dungeon (22 keyed areas) overrun by horrifying medical experiments. The genre is surgical horror as seen through the lens of low-level Basic D&D. A demon’s containment facility has been taken over by a bandit gang, who, when discovering the regenerative properties of the demon’s blood, set out to “perfect their forms” by injecting its blood into themselves, but ended up being transformed into misshapen horrors instead. Why people would end up doing this is kind of a mystery. Now the pitiful brutes, calling themselves the Offspring, are terrorising the countryside, while their surgeon creator continues with his mad experiments.
The Prison of Ananukaim is more of a compact lair than a larger dungeon – barracks, storerooms, medical horror rooms along the perimeter corridors, and the demon’s prison in the middle. Multiple access points and level connections add to the exploration aspect, although the scope remains limited. Variety is introduced through effective “show, don’t tell” touches like Offspring left chained in a room for disobedience and licking condensation off of the walls to sate their thirst; plotting vengeance on their leader for the horror of their new existence; or being sent to guard the demon while being scared out of their wits are three examples. There are monster NPCs with motivations (although the adventure is perhaps too small and too combat-oriented to really exploit this). The treasure scattered around the place is often hidden well – that old shield used to scrape the crap from a pigsty/chicken coop? It may just have a few valuable gems embedded in it.
There are bits that work less well. Chaos penguins feel like a shark is being jumped. These are random monster mobs without much rime (sorry! sorry!) or reason. “Hospital horror” clichés like a room where the Offspring have decorated the walls with childlike drawings of their formerly happy families are just clichés with mediaeval fantasy paint slapped on them. This is the general state of the module: it is in that specific spot where something is competently designed but still feels off for not rising beyond that level. Playable? Yes. Does it satisfy the “good old-school adventure design” checklist? Also yes. Creative? It colours within the lines.
No playtesters are credited in this adventure.
Rating: *** /