Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review Dungeon Crawl Classics #1 Idylls of the Rat King

Dungeon Crawl Classics #1 Idylls of the Rat King

(32 Page D20 adventure for 4-6 players Levels 1-3)

By Jeffrey Quinn
Front Cover Art: William McAusland
Back cover Art: Jason Edwards
Interior Art: Brad McDevitt
Cartographer: Matt Snyder

If you plan on playing in this adventure STOP READING NOW! - This will be your only spoiler warning.

This module certainly captures the essence of AD&D or OD&D and there is definitely a Keep on the Borderlands feel to the adventure. It is only 32 pages but it packs a very solid punch. More than one evenings gaming here and room for a great deal of expansion by any DM, but nothing to keep you from picking this up, reading it through and start playing.

Solid, very solid. Once the players are at the first door they are ready to start busting heads and taking loot with nothing to stop them but death and dismemberment till they reach the final level and confront the boss himself. Actually the group I ran took five trips into an expanded version of this true dungeon adventure with many twists turns and character deaths before they reached the end.

Very enjoyable though a bit flawed in a classic dungeon adventure style.

The Map design is classic graph paper thinking. Straight lines, rectangles and squares. An entrance and a long chain of corridors and rooms. I loved graph paper when I first started playing OD&D and drew many a map just like the one found in DCC#1 but it makes no sense. Not making sense isn't a terrible flaw, but it isn't right for many DMs while a sensible map design is always good.

The cartographer should have checked out the maps of a few real mines, that would certainly have helped. Thinking in three dimensions would have been great too. When you design an underground adventure you have to think about an apple. The underground is a big old apple sitting on a countertop, the passages are the tracks of a worm eating its way through that apple. The passages can rise and fall, twist in a circle around the core, they can be flat and level and then suddenly drop straight down. Unfortunately the cartographer wasn't thinking about apples when he drew these maps, he was thinking about graph paper, squares and rectangles lying flat on the table.

The map is easily changed, if that is the DMs desire. Have the mine itself connected or even set around these flat two-dimensional dungeon levels. A mine that has rough hewn corridors supported by rotting beams, twists and turns as the miners followed the silver into the earth. Small chambers, huge natural caverns, underground streams, flooded rooms, collapsed passages and sudden drops where the floor has given way. Corridors slant up to other openings, dive downwards, come to sudden halts where the ore petered out, but through it all fresh signs of work and passing feet. The rusted rails for carts scraped clear, drag marks where heavy crates were shifted, fresh wood to support old beams, leading finally to the dungeon and the adventure. Maybe too much work for a busy DM, and as easily left out as added to this adventure. It doesn't need to make sense, just nice if it did when it was written.

The background is good, a tale of revenge, filled with possibilities and a few nice twists to add spice to the scenario. Nicely expandable. The town map is bit small for a boomtown. A wilderness map showing the general area would have been helpful such as Keep on the Borderlands managed. Quite a bit material was crammed into this adventure and it is nice to find that a DM can easily add quite a bit more.

Balancing challenge over deadliness is always difficult and altering D20 to AD&D or OD&D can create even more problems. But I still disagree with the skill level recommended. A group of 1st or 2nd level characters would have serious problems with many of the encounters and much slaughter would ensue when dealing with a few of the wandering monsters (namely ogre skeletons and ogre zombies boasting 8D12+3 HP). Large groups of were-rat goblins would also be a deadly encounter even for a prepared party of 3rd level characters and the vampire would be a slaughter without neutering her through plot device.

All in all the flaws do no damage to this adventure. Remove a few creatures here and there, cut down the number of monsters encountered or beef up the party. Add henchman, hirelings, a group of mercenaries or guards, a rival band of adventurers.

What I did was change the plot a little. I wondered why some goblins were Were- and some were not. I had the goblins already in the mine and at the point the characters come into the story the Bard Lawrence is just converting them. The longer it took the players to make their way to him, the more he took over the goblin tribe. Those killed were re-animated by the necromancer. I expanded the boomtown greatly and worked out a wilderness map. Grabbed the old module B2 Keep on the Borderland (using it as template for a series of keeps in the area) as a nearby base. The dungeon itself I used as a dungeon and not mine passages especially on the third level where the zombie miners are set to be working.

It was a pleasure to add and alter this adventure. What made it nice was that the module itself needed little or no work and the possibilities for expansion were obvious and easily done. So a fun and solid module that can be picked up and run on the spot with more than one sessions play contained within the 32pages.

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