I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Doom of the Savage Kings (DCC #66.5) - Actual play review

Doom of the Savage Kings (DCC #66.5) is DCC adventure by Harley Stroh (if you don't know DCC, read this). Here is the blurb:

A Level 1 Adventure

High above the windswept moors and darksome woods, the village of Hirot is under siege. Each night, as the sun sinks beneath the western mountains and the candles burn low, a devil-beast stalks the village streets, unleashing its savage fury on the living. From warlord to pauper, crone to child, no one is safe.

Defeating the immortal hound will require more than mere blades or even spells. To slay the beast, the characters must delve into the mysteries of the land and its Savage Kings. Only then, armed with relics forged from a bloody past, can the most cunning and courageous of adventurers challenge the hound of Hirot!

Why did I buy/read this? I find many DCC adventures interesting. So I've gathered some for my current sandbox, including this one. I ran it using my Dark Fantasy Basic, which required some mild adaptation.

This DCC module is somewhat of a classic; I've heard people say good things about it before, but I hadn't tried it. So I just inserted the village of Hirot into my sandbox, a few rumors, and the PCs eventually went there to investigate. 

My players are currently in the third level. There were three of them, with three first level hirelings. I changed some stats, but not much. So, while I felt that the adventure looks hard for 3-4 1st-level PCs, I cannot say for sure. This is not meant as criticism, however; the adventure is fair, and players with some experience will avoid some of the worst traps in their way (and, if they decide to take on a dozen enemies at once, they'll get their fair "reward"...).

This is a typical DCC adventure: cool ideas, good maps, good art, some weirdness and humor. In fact, it feels a bit less weird than some DCC adventures I ran before: there's a village, and obvious threat, a small dungeon (in a barrow-mound), a magic weapon, a witch...  It has a "classic" feel,  like a scene straight out of Three Hearts and Three Lions

Still, the bits of weirdness are all interesting, creative and coherent: the snake-ghouls, the demonic hound, the cursed swamp, and so on. This is about the right balance between creativity and familiarity for me. 

As for the adventure structure, it is the "focused sandbox" that is common in modern adventures: the goal is more or less clear, but there are multiple ways to get there (one of them being obviously more likely). There are decent amounts of exploration, social interaction, and combat. There are great creatures, NPCs and traps. There are enough places and people in 20 pages to create multiple different situations without ever putting the PCs in a railroad. Likewise, the dungeon is not linear and has multiple entrances.

(I must add that I really like the format and contents of this dungeon - it is clever, creative, coherent. I had some difficulties understanding the map for a moment, but that might be just me).

Like most DCC adventures, each monster and magic item is peculiar: there are no goblins and skeletons in adjacent rooms, nor simple "+1 spears": things always have a small distinction or two at the very least. Magic items might be a bit too abundant for 1st-level adventurers, but this is a dangerous adventure for them, so I think it's fair.

The only baffling thing about the adventure is one particular scene that takes less than one page: the PCs get ambushed for no apparent reason, by NPCs they were, in theory, trying to help - and they also kill their hirelings automatically, which feels like a cheap shot. A direct confrontation in these circumstances felt harder than facing the hound (in my game, the PCs managed to win due to being high level and a failed morale check, but I don't know if this would be available with 1st level PCs). It is unclear if there is room to negotiate to avoid a fight (the NPCs are willing to surrender), or if it would be possible to still deal with the village after such a battle. In my games, the PCs considered simply leaving after that, the village be damned, but ultimately they decided to face the hound (I would have accepted any decision, obviously).

I mention this not because it detracts from the adventure - it doesn't - but only because I think the DM should think about this specific scene before running the module.

And, by the end, having a few loose threads might prove very useful for my sandbox...

Overall, I found this to be an awesome adventure, above average even when compared to other adventures I've picked because they were specifically recommended.

OVERVIEW (explanation here):

Usable? Yes! This one is well organized and straightforward.

Inspiring? Yes! A bitt less weird than some DCC adventures.

Bloated? No. It has the right size.

Tiresome? Not at all.

Clear? Yes, mostly.

In short: As you can see from the overview, this adventure succeeds in each of my five criteria. This is probably a first here. DCC adventures are usually good; this one has a bit more social interaction and a bit less weirdness than others. Because of that, it feels like a great adventure to start a DCC campaign. Recommended! Get it here.

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