Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saturday Grab Bag - Review: The Curse of the Witch Head

I'm very excited, my Mythoard package finally came! I have a bunch of products to review for the blog. For those of you who don't know, Mythoard is a LootCrate-esque package that comes to your house, the difference being that Mythoard is all related to Tabletop RPGs.

This weekend I'll have two reviews, and then some more to come. I will be hopefully reviewing Mythoard itself on another blog as a guest writer, so stay tuned to find a link to that sometime in the coming weeks. Mythoard may be a little pricey, especially if you live outside of the United States, but it really isn't too bad. I didn't realize how excited I would be for it to come. I would highly recommend getting at least one month, even if you don't subscribe, I think you'll like it. (And I don't have any sort of affiliate program with them, I just think it's worth checking out).

The first product I'll review from the package is:

Advanced Adventures #3: The Curse of the Witch Head

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/55328/Advanced-Adventures-3-The-Curse-of-the-Witch-Head?site=&manufacturers_id=69?affiliate_id=673978

This adventure is written by James C. Boney of Expeditious Retreat Press. It was written for the OSRIC system, which as I understand means it is essentially written for 1st Edition D&D, old-school RPG, essentially. The rules to OSRIC are available online for free, so if you don't want to buy the rules to a system, and you love that old-school feel, it might be worth looking into.

I'm not a huge fan of the old-school RPG, but it seems to be still kickin' around through large movements like OSR. Personally I like the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, it has the simple easy to follow rules of the old-school, while still being a modern system with the newer rules I'm used to. This is likely just a taste thing, and I'm sure I could grow to like the old-school rules. One thing that's important is that I don't know a lot about 1st Edition D&D, or any of the older style of RPGs, so my ignorance will likely show during this review.

One of the things I personally find about 80's styled tabletop, is it has a huge portion of the attention on adventuring and fighting. I personally focus more on the roleplaying side at my table, I'm not sure if this is because it is a published adventure focusing on a dungeon, or the old-school style, but The Curse of the Witch Head definitely seems to follow this theme.

The introduction brings the players straight into the adventure. There is an evil dude with an evil artifact from long ago, and a ruler who needs help from adventurers. What makes this book different straight off the bat, and I find pretty creative, is that they aren't the first group of adventurers hired for the mission, they're the third. The first two are presumed dead. I'm not a fan of how the book brings in the players, it isn't so much a suggestion as a hand-waving, saying the players were hired for a rescue mission. I know if I asked my players to collect some widget on something that the book describes as what "increasingly seems to be a suicide mission", from a Duke they'd never met, they would run in the opposite direction. The book does do a good job of explaining that anything could be changed by the DM to better suit his needs, so I can't complain too much. Just feels like it is designed as a railroad, but I guess if you didn't want a structured adventure you wouldn't be playing out of the book.

Some of the writing seems a little awkward (which readers of this blog will likely be used to). Some of the beginning seems to lack creativity, which make me scratch my head, because as you will see the dungeon itself is quite good. For example, the widget the players are supposed to find is an ancient "Witch Head", it has been hidden away for generations. The location? Witcheed Hill, a hill that the book suggests might have originally come from a slip of the tongue of the original labourers.

The Dungeon

I found the introduction to this adventure a little lackluster. However, this may be just the style of 1st edition, the Dungeon with a capital D tends to be the focus of these things, doesn't it? The dungeon is very well done, even to a heathen 5e DM like myself. If I had quality dungeons like this in fifth edition modules I would actually run dungeons at my table more often.

The map is an old-school white grid on a black background style of map, which I appreciate. I like my maps to be simple. Although the map is simple, the dungeon certainly isn't. Each room as a great two to three paragraph description, with very creative ideas. There is a desecrated temple to a god of good, where the god of evil and god of good are both vying for control, and players have a chance for a temporary boon or curse (rolled on a table), an underground lake filled with giant leeches, and many interesting traps and enemies. 

The dungeon is far and away the highlight of this module, and takes up the majority of the book. Part of the reason I don't run a lot of dungeons at my table is I use lots of improv, and I'm rarely prepared enough for a dungeon worthy of my players. This dungeon, although designed for another version, is definitely worth running. I definitely plan on adapting this dungeon to fifth edition, mostly by stripping out the monsters and replacing them with 5e monsters. I'm not quite sure what I'll do with the story, but the sense of adventure and exploration that each room of the dungeon exudes definitely makes it worth the attention.

Art

While I may not be a huge fan of the old-school RPG, I am a fan of the old-school style of art. Like the old issues of Dragon magazine, the art in this book really stands out. I really appreciate the drawings in this book, especially since the book definitely doesn't need them, it could have made do with just the cover and the map. 

Monsters and Items

I'm purposefully not going to review the unique monsters and magical items that were included in this book. I don't think that I'm qualified to comment since I don't have a strong grasp on this ruleset. When I run this dungeon, which I'm now sure that I am going to, I will reflavour the stats of a monster from the Fifth Edition Monster Manual, but describe it to the players the same as in this book, possibly adapting any of the special abilities. 

Summary

Ultimately, I don't think I could become a fan of the OSRIC/1st Edition play-style or rules, but this adventure definitely made me rethink how I look at dungeons, and the general adventuring/exploring play-style. I may be focusing too much on role-play, and need to throw a quality dungeon like this at my players. I would highly recommend picking up this book somewhere like DriveThruRPG, you would be supporting an indie designer, as well as trying things out that might be a little different than you are used to.

Even if you aren't interested in the older style (I certainly am not), the dungeon is very well designed, and will definitely interest your players. I suggest picking this module up and plopping in your own monsters from the Monster Manual, you'll have a high quality dungeon ready to go for very little work.