Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #5 Aerie of the Crow God / #5.5 Seed of Evil

Dungeon Crawl Classics #5 Aerie of the Crow God / #5.5 Seed of Evil By Andrew Hind

{64 Page d20 adventure for 4-6 players levels 7-8 (DCC#5) 4 players level 9 (DCC#5.5)}

Front Cover Artist: Chuck Whelon
Back Cover Artist: Brad McDevitt
Interior Artists: Jason Edwards, Brad McDevitt, Stefan Poag, Brian Tarsis
Cartographer: Jeremy Simmons

If you are planning on playing in these adventures STOP READING NOW! - I really mean it this time.

The edition I reviewed contains the adventure DCC#5 and the sequel DCC#5.5. It struck me as odd that they have different recommendations for the size of the party. I noticed one map error on page 63 of this edition that refers you back to page #48 for an overhead map of level A encounters (it is now on page #64).

The are some excellent ideas and interesting maps in this double adventure. It will require a bit of conversion work to recraft it for AD&D mainly due to the nature of higher level d20 rules drifting further from their AD&D origins. The main problem I found was that these adventures are remarkably underpowered.

DCC#5 begins a bit strangely. The plot device to get the players involved in the adventure feels unlikely and somewhat strained, even more so because it was intentionally left undeveloped. This plot can be used or another motivation put in its place with little difficulty but it struck me as more awkward than useful. I made many alterations in this module when I converted it to AD&D and abandoned the central plot motivation. This removed the time constraints ( a 3 day deadline to find a missing key) and made it into a campaign rather than what might be a single session game for the DCC#5 portion (although it would have to be a lengthy day's gaming since DCC#5 covers a good number of rooms and encounters unaltered).

The six pages of background and DM charts and recommendations are quite helpful. I have always found the Game Master's Section encounter table at the start of DCC adventures to be a wonderful inclusion. From here it is a short step directly to the dungeon.

Once started the adventure offers surprisingly little risk for the rewards. A small group of 2HD monsters defending over 1000 gold in coin. A telepathic sword that can sever hands on a critical hit left lying outside the entrance to the tower. The tower itself almost empty (13 rooms with three combat encounters, only one of which offers any actual challenge to the players). It is a shame because there are good ideas here and interesting encounters, but not enough of them and not enough meat for the players to dig into.

From the tower the quest will lead to an underground temple. Some undead guardians that a cleric should have no trouble turning or the party hacking into little bits.

Once in the temple area the players may choose one path that will lead them to the key they were looking for, and end the timed portion of the quest (if they were following that plot line), or another passage that will lead them to an abandoned shrine of Matlock... I mean Malotoch. (Except that every time I see that name I keep hearing Grandpa Simpson calling out Matttt-Lock from an early sideshow Bob episode).

The 2nd and 3rd levels of the temple are an excellent dungeon crawl but really geared more for characters two levels lower than the ones recommended.

Without much alteration the entire temple area would make a fine 5th or 6th level adventure. The other named weapons are powerful but not absurdly so. The gold values can be toned down (especially if they also are being used to compute experience). The same goes for the treasure awarded. Most of the monsters run between 5 and 7 HD including the bosses.

The adventure ends with a nice enjoyable battle in an evil temple with some good suggestions for further adventures.

Dungeon Crawl Classic #5.5 Seed of Evil is only loosely connected to the Aerie of the Crow God. Once again the players are fighting the evil God malotoch in a short wilderness/dungeon trek. It is a nice little adventure with possibilities, but with only a handful of rooms and encounters with nothing particularly outstanding.

Strangely this is recommended for only 4 players, which makes it hard to mesh directly with DCC#5 if that group consisted of 6 players, but even 4 ninth level players will have an easy time up until the final encounter with Malotoch herself. Like DCC#5, DCC#5.5 would be more challenging and better suited to a party of 5th or 6th level characters.

There is room in Seed of Evil for a better adventure to grow. The encounter with a God is too heavy handed for my taste. The players are not meant to be able to defeat Molotoch so the entire encounter becomes plot device. The confrontation seems pointless. Simply running afoul of Molotoch's clerics and followers should be enough to create a recurring nemesis for the players if the DM so desires.

The back of the module contains a map of the town Carnelloe which is near to the tower and temple with a few NPC blurbs of town residents, a listing of new monsters and magic items, and some player handouts which are mostly illustrations of various areas in the adventure (something I've always enjoyed ever since they first started providing them in TSR modules like S1 Tomb of Horrors).

This is a good all around adventure. I don't see it as difficult to convert to AD&D, but I do recommend adding more encounters to the first areas, and either beefing up the entire adventure to suit 7th or 8th level PCs or trying it with a lower level group.

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