Friday 26 January 2024

[MODULE] The Webs of Past and Present & Cloister of the Frog-God (NOW AVAILABLE!)

Can you have enough frog-themed modules?

I am pleased to announce the publication of two adventure modules, The Webs of Past and Present and Cloister of the Frog-God.

Buxom Elven Wenches
May Be Included
The Webs of Past and Present
is a 28-page dungeon module by Gabor Csomos for 4th to 5th level characters, with 39 keyed areas. The module features cover art by Graphite Prime, and interior illustrations by Ferenc Fabian, Cameron Hawkey, the Dead Victorians, and the Robot Overlords. It takes adventurers to the decaying elven pleasure-palace of Túr Eridenal, now a monster-haunted ruin still clinging to its past glories. Exploration-oriented gameplay in an open-ended environment is combined with complex puzzle-solving, a ticking clock, and evil flying elven heads. The booklet comes with a fold-out GM’s map of Túr Eridenal. This adventure was the winner of the 2021 No Artpunk Contest, a mighty accomplishment.

“A group of adventurers took a job they were unable to finish. They went into the ruins of Túr Eridenal, an abandoned elven palace of some kind, and never returned. The characters’ mission is to find out what happened to them, rescue the survivors, and – if possible – finish the job they started. Besides the predatory creature the adventurers were hunting, the ruins are overrun with all kinds of monsters, and corrupted by a sinister curse. There are survivors, however, whom the party may rescue if they are smart... even more than just some lost adventurers. All shall be caught in… The Webs of Past and Present!

* * *

Death Frog Doom
I am also pleased to announce the publication of Cloister of the Frog-God, a 40-page wilderness and dungeon module for 4th to 6th level characters, with 15 + 77 keyed areas and more frogs than you can shake a stick at. The module features cover art by Denis McCarthy (who also did a bunch of the interiors), and interior illustrations by Andrew Walter, Matthew Ray, Stefan Poag, the Dead Victorians, and the Robot Overlords. The module’s wilderness section describes the Marshlands, a labyrinth of waterways, strange denizens, and swamp monsters. However, it is the frog-cultists who truly rule the land from a half-ruined cloister complex, sitting on top of ancient catacombs that reach far down – and just as far back in time, before the coming of Man. The cloister is a large, interconnected dungeon environment with multiple access points, different sub-sections, and challenges to test both the cautious and the daring. The booklet comes with a fold-out GM’s map of the Marshlands, as well as the Cloister complex.

“The cloister has stood on a desolate ridge overlooking vast swamps since time immemorial. Dedicated to the great and terrible Tsathoggus, this edifice of evil was destroyed again and again through history, only to re-emerge from its slumber once the forces of Law grew lax and the terrible deeds of the frog-cultists became forgotten. Now a new order rises among the old walls, while older evils stir in stone grottoes and underground sanctuaries. Spies visit the settlements of the marshlands, and offerings make their way to the cloister where the monks hold their vigils as their ancestors have, guarding a nightmare that refuses to die.”

NOTE: This is a scenario whose two parts have been released before, and are now combined into a single adventure. The Cloister dungeons were published as a chapter in Frog God Games’ Rappan Athuk (and are reprinted with permission), while the Marshlands were published in Echoes From Fomalhaut #04. The current edition has been re-edited for greater accessibility.

* * *

The print versions of the modules are available from my Bigcartel store; the PDF edition will be published through DriveThruRPG with a few months’ delay. As always, customers who buy the print edition will receive the PDF version free of charge.

Sunday 21 January 2024

[REVIEW] Benighted Betrothal

Benighted Betrothal (2023)

by Sandor Gebei

Published by the Melsonian Arts Council

Level 3

Dubbed “a viking soap opera”, this is a small sandbox adventure describing the general area of a small northern village beset by inner conflicts, ancient curses, and mysterious locales in the wilderness. A wedding is being planned to unite to rival viking clans, others (potentially including the player characters) are planning to disrupt it, and things are set up to go astray in a dozen interesting ways. The module is mainly a toolkit to run these calamities: the soap opera aspect comes from the complicated web of personal enmities, obligations, and relationships which make the situation so unstable.

This is a slim, small 40-page hardcover with generous production values and just as generous empty space. References and summaries are provided, stretched to take up multiple pages with illustrations. For instance, there is a one-page location summary with a facing player map, then the same map is reproduced again for the GM on two more pages with just about the same content. That, in turn, means, the written content is rather slim; I would estimate this is around the size of a 20-page pamphlet using conventional layout techniques and the usual amount of interior art. It is effectively written; words are not wasted, and the module should be easy to use in play. But in the end, it is still  lighter than it should properly be.

The focus of the module is on open-ended problem-solving, and you receive useful components for that. The tiny town of Gnupr is mainly presented not so much as a location (this section is a bullet-point list of items like “Longhouses – 20’×60’ longhouses; half wood, half turf”, or “Smithy – source of constant noise”) as a network of social relationships and hidden agendas. Common knowledge, rumours, key NPCs, and a table of hired swords are used as the moving parts of the sandbox. Written with brevity, they are rich with potential to instigate exploration and conflict. For instance, rumours may be things like “Even our mortal blood has magic. It opens portals, they say”, or “Have you noticed how Thorwald acts all weird ‘round Helvi?” An NPC, such as the bride’s mother, might be described as “Not young anymore but still beautiful. Does everything to stop the marriage between Ingrid and Varghöss due to the terrible truth that [they] are half-siblings. She will not share this information with anyone willingly”. This is good an effective, although the book’s empty space might have been used better for a default progression of events, the description of a few possible developments or plans that may come to pass, or other sorts of useful information (it might be a natural idea to steal the bride-price for a combination of personal gain and to prevent the marriage, but where it may be kept and what form it may take is not provided). You mainly get the raw building blocks and get to assemble them yourself, or use random rolls to do so.

The Very Tiny Sandbox
The module’s other section is focused on the surrounding wilderness. The emphasis here is on ancient, mythical secrets which are the source of Gnupr’s present troubles: undead infestation, witchery, a dragon, and more are involved. They draw on the stranger aspects of Nordic legends (or might have been made up by the author, but if so, the fit is excellent). However, the wilderness section is much more sketchy and underdeveloped. There is a chart of 12 random encounters which are usually more complex than a simple monster fight – more like open-ended situations to build on and integrate into the action. A group of manhunters are seeking a fugitive (related to multiple denizens in Gnupr), a group of kindly nomads are herding their goats, which walk on two legs at night and are breastfed by their women; a swarm of crows coalesce into an ominous seer. This is the stronger part. The five wilderness locations (four monster lairs and an enigma) are honestly not much. There are interesting NPC antagonists, including a young dragon and the hag behind some of the village conflicts, but they are small in both scope and number. The wilderness feels tiny. This is partly intentional, as part of an inwards-focused situation-based setup. Most links lead back to the central conflicts. But unrelated elements also serve a role; and they are not present. It is also the case that even the largest of the locations, the hag lair, is essentially a three-room dungeon with three paths each terminating in a cave. The rest are even more aspatial. Not everything needs to be a dungeon crawl, or a pointcrawl, or another sort of crawl, and yet…

Benighted Betrothal is a decent, functional scenario whose primary value lies in its intricate social conflicts, and presenting them in an open-ended way that makes it adaptable to different needs, accommodating different styles of player problem-solving. Where it is weaker is in two areas. The location-based components are underdeveloped, and the wilderness adventure sites are just minor lairs. Ultimately, it is nice, but you come away with the impression this is a case where more would have been more. The “tiny hardcover” format perhaps drives this home more than a more conservative presentation would have, but the issues are there.

This module credits its playtesters.

Rating: *** / *****