Levels 2–4 “plus henchmen”
Hello, and welcome to part SIX of **THE RECONQUISTA**, wherein entries of the scandalous No Artpunk Contest II (banned on Reddit but the top seller in the artpunk category on itch.io) are subjected to RIGHTEOUS JUDGEMENT. As previously, the contest focuses on excellence in old-school gaming: creativity, craft, and table utility. It also returns to the original old school movement in that it assumes good practices can be learned, practiced and mastered; and there are, in fact, good and bad ways of playing. Like last year, these reviews will assume the participants have achieved a basic level competence, and are striving to go forward from that point. One adventure, No Art Punks by Peter Mullen, shall be excluded since Peter is contributing cover and interior art for my various publications. With that said and solemnly declared, Deus Vult! Let Destiny prevail!
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A shrine known for a font that can grant magical powers for a price has become the focus of multiple competing groups. A magic-user, looking for the font’s energies, has been captivated by an evil plant monster, and serves it loyally. A band of grimlocks want to destroy the plant to worship the font as a manifestation of their god. A drow swordswoman has escaped here with a macguffin, and is pursued by a humanoid band who want her dead and the macguffin for themselves. The plant monster wants to enthrall and feed on more victims. This adventure uses a Dyson Logos map for a small dungeon adventure with 25 keyed areas, and lets loose the PCs among the factions.
The result is a
sort of compendium of dungeon design good practices – a good mixture of
encounter types, dungeon factions, non-linearity, monster tactics and a sense
of wonder are all present. The locale is effective as a derelict place of
mystery, with the statues of mysterious goddesses, scavengers which have moved
in, and enigmatic puzzles you can mess with. This element of exploration and interaction
is the adventure’s strongest point; whether it is messing with two magical
mirrors that allow remote observation of key locales, stealing votive coins
from the shrine of a death goddess, or exploring a laboratory setpiece, fun
possibilities are presented and explored. It is not just single-function stuff –
there are deeper layers of interaction and multiple possibilities to explore.
There are enough environmental clues to help you along, but experimentation is
tempting. You find a dead body, followed by a killer trap, and if you fall for
it, it is richly deserved. The combat encounters offer good variety – there is
a battle on a bridge spanning a larger cavern with a swarm of spiders dropping
down from the ceiling that should warm every GM’s heart, a large grimlock
gathering you can crash, or moving NPCs who are all different in their approach
and threat type.
Designed to be
The faction conflict is central to the adventure, and it is impressively developed. There are opposing forces active in the area, they are on the move, and some of them also have bases to fall back to. This is quite outstanding, although as it tends to be, the dungeon is too small for this scope of intrigue. It is a grand play on a small stage – to work properly, it would need a place that would be three or more times as large, with generous empty space between the keyed areas.
User-friendly presentation is just as
prominent in The
Arcane Font of Hranadd-Zul, and every trick from the book is on display. Room entries use
multiple-level bullet-point formatting, underlining, cross-referencing, the
works. NPC motivations are explained, terrain features described exactly, there
is a table breaking down XP and treasure, and even a “what happens after the
adventure” page. Paradoxically, this becomes the module’s largest flaw and the
main obstacle to actually using it. Things are over-explained in the text – describing
the presence of mundane doors where the map would suffice, or dwelling on insignificant
dungeon clutter, or the motivations of a mimic and a carrion
crawler (it is what you expect). Underlined keywords are too frequent, and don’t
draw our eyes to the relevant bits. The effect of presenting the entire text in
two-level bullet pontese is more disorienting than helpful – a lot of it
would have worked better as plain text, with the bullet points reserved for relevant
material. The point is not that these layout practices aren’t useful, but that
their role should be supportive, not overwhelming. Here, it is overwhelming.
Discovering the Ruined e-Thot Room
All things considered, this is a decent adventure, but it would be a better one if it had a larger sscope, and especially if it wasn’t trying to be so helpful. There are strong elements in the factions, the exploration, and the generally well-written text, but in the end, we return to the eternal wisdom: less is sometimes more. Would I use the adventure as it is? No. Would I be interested in a new one that fixed its issues but kept its good points? Definitely.
No playtesters are credited in this module.
Rating: *** / *****