Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Away From The Dungeon

I do not have a group that plays “Edition 0” at moment, though this does not stop me from wanting to leap into the Old School Renaissance and run some old fashioned, back-to-basics Dungeons & Dragons. The desire all too often means that what I look at when it comes to scenarios are all designed to played with characters of first level. Thus I have looked at, and reviewed, titles such as Death Frost Doom and The Grinding Gear, all written for low level characters, but there are of course, scenarios written for levels beyond first, so it would only be fair to look at those too. For my first, I chose Wrack & Rune, an adventure for a party of four to six characters of between fourth and sixth level.

Published by Faster Monkey Games, Wrack & Rune is ostensibly compatible with all “Edition 0” games, but has been written for use with Goblinoid Games’ Labyrinth Lord and not only makes use of that RPG’s core book, but also its Advanced Edition Companion, the supplement that makes Labyrinth Lord more like Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. The scenario is set in Faster Monkey Games’ Eastern Valnwell campaign setting, but there is nothing to stop the Labyrinth Lord or GM from dropping it into his own campaign world. All that this requires is a civilised country with a coastal region that is prone to heavy storms.

The adventure begins in Wrack, an insular and unwelcoming fishing village on the Eel Bight, a bay known for its heavy fogs, treacherous currents, steep cliffs, and shoal waters. The party has been sent there by the wizard Meldime who wants them to look for the Lady Elaine, the ship that was due to deliver an articled stone statue from the Dwarves for his new tower at Cobble Point, but which is now overdue. The adventurers have just given ten days to bring him news of the lost ship and if they can deliver the statue in good condition, the wizard has promised to reward them each a magic item.

While in Wrack, the party learns of Keyshilan, an island that appears during the heavy fogs of spring and autumn that is purported to let the fey folk travel to their undersea winter kingdom of Shiriyak. The locals say that the fey folk capture anyone who comes too close to the island, so avoid setting to sea at these times, but ships are still lost during these fogs. Given the time restraints placed upon the adventurers by Meldime, they have little time to hang around in the village, but with some good roleplaying, the adventurers can learn that a ship recently went down in the Eel Bight. The question is, if this was the Lady Elaine, did she sail too close to Keyshilan? This is knowledge enough for the party to hire the Sea Vulture and her slightly scurvy crew commanded by Captain Morton, who together mostly make their living from salvage.

Once the party takes to the sea in search of the Lady Elaine, the adventure becomes more freeform in nature with the course of events primarily determined by the players’ actions. It also takes on a logistical aspect as not only do the heroes have to locate the wreck and verify that she is indeed the wreck of the Lady Elaine, they also have to search the sea bed for the statue and haul its various parts up onto the deck of the Sea Vulture. Wrack & Rune gives rules for handling each of these processes, as well as several means by which the characters can more easily, though not necessarily more safely, explore the sea bottom around Wrack. There is also one new magic item, a Potion of Sea Change, and two new monsters for Labyrinth Lord, the Dolphin and the Large Octopus. The players will probably have fun with the potion as it polymorphs a person into a random aquatic creature better suited to working under the sea. Which might mean a creature with fins rather than hands and of course, no voice for casting spells...

One of the secrets in Wrack & Rune is that the adventurers are not up against one deadline – that one being Meldime’s time limit before he reduces their fee, but two. This second is the imminent arrival of Keyshilan and the revelation as to the island’s true nature. Although not the only threat in Wrack & Rune, the others being the undersea environment, Captain Morton’s greed, and various aquatic predators who will take an interest in the party’s activities, but it is the major one. Much like the film Jaws, the Labyrinth Lord should keep Keyshilan and its mystery an ever present threat in background while the characters are at sea, ratcheting up the tension as the climax approaches...

Available just as 5.02 Mb, sixteen page PDF, Wrack & Rune is a cleanly presented affair. The only spot of colour is on the front cover and the map, and while only clip art is used to illustrate the adventure, all of it is well chosen. Steve Zieser’s cover illustration is nicely evocative of the threats to be faced though, depicting the wreck of the Lady Elaine. There is one last issue, and that is with the title. The “Rune” of Wrack & Rune does not refer to a rune in the sense that most gamers would think. It is not a character from an ancient script or alphabet such as that often used by the Dwarves or by wizards to inscribe magical effects, but is rather an aphorism or in the case of the scenario, a poem with mystical elements. In other words, there is poetry in this scenario.

If Wrack & Rune has flaws, they are at least minor. It is perhaps lacking in terms of staging advice and in the descriptions of the default setting of Eastern Valnwell, to an English sensibility, it does feel as if the author is trying too hard in some of the names chosen and in the personalities of the NPCs. Nevertheless, the adventure is nicely balanced between roleplaying and interaction elements at the start and the logistical, time limited elements of the dive on the wreck, and it should provide two good sessions of gaming. Overall, Wrack & Rune is a solid, well written scenario that takes the adventurers away from the dungeon and presents them with an interesting challenge.