Happy Free RPG Day! A relatively new nerdy holiday which went completely under my radar until the day after when my friend arrived at my home with a pile of free modules, adventures, and quick start guides, bidding me to take whatever I want.
As I started to comb through this collection my friend smirked at said “You know, there are two things from the DCC people in there” to which I responded “Oh hell yeah dude” and I quickly pulled out Goodman Games’ two contributions to Free RPG Day, two short adventures called “The Three Wizard Conundrum” and “Danger in the Air”. I quickly placed these in my “keep” pile, and once my friend went back home I quickly read through them, and I am happy to report that I found both to be generally pleasing.
Not a very compelling review huh? Well don’t fear, I have a bit more to say about both of these adventures.
Firstly, as adventures made to be handed out at game stores during Free RPG Day these adventures are, of course, free! And while they are not going to be free forever, if Goodman Games prices them anything like previous Free RPG Day outings they will be quite inexpensive to purchase, so price is not quite an issue here.
Secondly, both of these adventures are designed to introduce new players to their respective game
With these two points in mind, I hope that my review will answer two questions for the perspective GM of these two adventures. One, is this adventure worth your time. And two, is this adventure a good introduction to its game line?
Lets start with “The Three Wizard Conundrum” whose name immediately drew me in for the admittedly nerdy reason that it reminded me of those scientific-logical paradoxes that are the topic of many a Tom Scott and Wendover Productions video. You know, things like “The three body problem” or “the travelling salesman problem”. My own weird pleasure with the scenario name aside, the art also helped to draw me in, depicting the eponymous three wizards in various campy ‘magical’ poses.
The adventure itself is about ten pages, and is essentially a twist on that most classic of low-level adventure, going to fetch a magic bauble for an NPC wizard.
It is quite simple really, the party is approached by three different wizards with the same job, retrieve the magical Ring of Ooul from an arcane dead zone on a distant mountainside. Each wizard is weird in their own way, testing the players wit and cunning before entrusting them with the task at hand, all the while badmouthing his rivals. The module fully expects the players to play the wizards off of each other to get a bigger rewards, and the roleplaying opportunities presented are quite fun as characters get to play off of the eccentric wizards and test their negotiating skills. Once the party arrives at the mountain they must fight some pterodactyl mounted goblins, a great opportunity for contend with a rival adventuring party sent by whichever wizards the party did not support, and descend into a cleft in the mountainside to retrieve the wizards promised treasure. Classic stuff!
And so what is the twist to this classic formula?
The wizards are a bunch of lying bastards, that’s what!
Yes the three wizards are in fact, frauds. Not complete frauds, as at least two of the wizards possess some minor magical talent, but they certainly are not the mighty magisters they portray themselves as. The three are in fact career criminals and con-men, who after fortuitously discovering that the cleft in the side of the magic mountain had a docile gelatinous cube at the bottom, devised a scheme to lure gullible adventure to the site and their assured deaths. Reasoning that whether it was at the hand of the goblins, cube or other adventurers, all they would have to do is fly in on their stolen magic carpet, mop up the survivors and scoop up their erstwhile client’s stuff before getting some other idiots to fall for the same scheme.
To be quite honest, I adore this premise! And author Mihailo Tesic has done a great job creating an adventure around it. I love how the tests each wizard preforms on the party to test their “fitness” for the adventure are all just ruses to see how juicy of marks they are; “Quick! You have ten taps of my staff to sum your gold coins, multiply them by seven and add 4. I must know you are clever you see.” I like how each ‘wizards’ bombastic claims about his hated ‘rivals’ are the exaggerated but completely true opinions each con-man holds for his companions.
Since you know Three Wizard Conundrum is worth your time, does it serve as a good introduction to goodman games’ Fifth Edition Fantasy series? I would say it most certainly does.
Having read through several of this line’s adventures and several blog posts on the topic. I think it is not a stretch to say that these adventures aims to bring some of the old school ethos to the D&D 5e milieu, whether that is through more traditional dungeon crawls or more open sandbox and situation based modules. Three Wizard with its classic setup and intended party of level 3 adventurers strikes me as an obvious entry point into the line. If I wanted to open a more old school style D&D 5E campaign, I think that Three Wizard, with its skullduggery, and good mix of roleplaying and combat would be an good first adventure, and perhaps an excellent second or third adventure, once the player characters have a (small) reputation and the players have felt out their personalities a bit.
Danger in the Air has a bit more heavy lifting to do than its counterpart. Since it is an introduction not just to old-school style adventure but potentially a curious player’s (and GM’s) first adventure in a weird game called Dungeon Crawl Classics that requires you to roll a die you’ve never seen called a d16 and forces you to throw away your multi-page character backstory and roll up four level-0 peasants who are about to arrive at the ends of their short lives
As far as I am concerned, a good level 0 funnel for DCC must accomplish three goals in order to be considered a success, a good level 0 funnel must;
- Work easily as the introduction to a whole campaign.
- Introduce players to both DCC’s unique mechanics such as luck, and old school play more generally.
- Provide plenty of weird, interesting, amusing or horrible ways to kill the aforementioned level 0 goobers.
So does Danger in the Air meet these arbitrary criteria?
Yes it does!
The basic idea is that a strange jellyfish like creature has drifted into a field near the player character’s village, a strange event on its own, but some intrepid locals have found the strange beast to be leaking treasure onto the earth below! And thus the player’s gaggle of level 0 characters arrive to plunder the beast for all it’s worth.
In a strange bit of coincidence, Danger in the Air is another science-fantasy dungeon crawl from Michael Curtis, whose previous venture into the genre, Frozen in Time was the subject of the latest review on my blog. I was rather lukewarm on Frozen, but I am decidedly less on Danger in the Air.
Why the difference? Well despite their similar premises, I think the direction that Curits takes in Danger is a more interesting one. Frozen‘s dungeon is a typical sci-fi complex with beeping computers, blinking lights, and alien technology wrought in chrome. Complete with wink-wink nudge-nudge pop culture references, fights against dinosaurs and Robby the Robot, and time travel. Danger in the Air is also a dungeon crawl about an advanced complex being plundered by relative primitives. But rather than being a pastiche of golden age sci-fi, the jellyfish-ship is a formerly living thing, whose advanced spacefaring capabilities are powered by arcane sorcery that may be distantly familiar to the players, although well beyond their capabilities. Rather than finding Apollo-style space suits crammed into crew lockers, the players instead find living leather and shell jumpsuits with breathing moss inside them that recycles their moisture and oxygen. Instead of a museum of historic artwork, players can plunder a display room of weird artifacts from alien wizards and distant worlds. And perhaps most grotesquely, instead of battling an anachronistic robot. Players instead contend against the ships “computer” an alchemical homunculus made of dozens of pseudo-brains living within a fleshy corpus that has broken free of its containment to croak bizarre answers to the player’s questions at them as it slowly gives in to its primitive flight or fight responses and tears them in half.
So thematically it is interesting, and the living dungeon provides plenty of quest hooks (Where did this thing come from? What is the signal that drew it here? Where is the signal coming from?). It also does a solid job of introducing things like luck checks and star-signs, even having a monster that can alter a character’s starting fate or luck modifier. And when it comes to weird ways to lose your level-0 peasants, Danger in the Air delivers with soul-sucking space leeches, automated defense systems, and the aforementioned brain-homunculus all providing memorable ways of watching poor Johann Miller being sent to the next world.
Both Three Wizard Conundrum and Danger in the Air have a lot to offer, whether what you need is an amusing and open quest with great roleplaying opportunities and amusing skullduggery, or a classic DCC funnel with a unique aesthetic. If your FLGS happens to have a few extra copies on hand I would highly recommend picking them up while they are free. If you are not able to get your hands on them, then Goodman Games will soon have them available on their webstore to pick up. And while both modules are small, Goodman Game’s usual asking prince of 6 dollars for a download and 10 dollars for a print+pdf makes them easy recommendations for purchase. If you had to pick one over the other, I personally prefer the more open style of Three Wizard as opposed to Danger‘s traditional dungeon crawl, but I don’t think you can go wrong with either choice.
Anyways, happy late free rpg day! As for what you can look forward to coming out soon on this blog, you will soon be able to read my first board game review (what could it be?). I am also doing work for the next issue of the t he Warhammer Fantasy fanzine The Ratter which I will be sure to report on when it comes out.