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

Friday, 22 April 2016

Lost from the Sun

Thralls of the Sun is the first release supporting Blood & Bronze: A Fantasy Game of High Adventure and Role-Playing, the post-Old School Renaissance Retroclone set in Ancient Mesopotamia published by Cyclopean Games. It is the Bronze Age RPG’s first ‘Adventure Setup’ or scenario, a dungeon of a very different stripe. Designed to be used by beginning or intermediate characters, it offers classic dungeoneering play combined with some solid social interaction—both necessary for completing the adventure. The adventure or dungeon comes in two parts which can either be played separately or together, but if Thralls of the Sun is played as written, it comes with a really good set-up and hook for the player characters.

Thralls of the Sun begins with the player characters in servitude. They have been found guilty of crimes—and each player gets to define his character’s crime or crimes—by the court of Shamash, the Gleaming God of Sippar, and been sentenced to labour in the Slave Pits beneath the golden ziggurat of the Midday Sun where the city’s waterworks are. This sentence is for life! So the adventurers are cast into the darkness below city of Sippar, enslaved and stripped of their goods, expected to work each and every day… until they die. Their aim of course is to escape their sentence and their captivity, but how do they do that in the dark, friendless, and chattel-less?

From this great set-up, the characters are not just going on a dungeon bash. Rather they are preparing to explore the underground network of waterworks, mechanisms, tunnels, and caverns. For this they will need to find equipment—and sources of light in particular—and allies and patrons. Obtaining the latter will probably gain the characters the time to explore, though of course at the direction of their patron. The other benefit to having a patron is that it will give someone to whom the player characters can pay tribute. This is important, for in Blood & Bronze, the only way in which a character can gain Ranks beyond his first is to pay tribute to his patron. Of course, the only way to gain the loot to pay this tribute is to go exploring! There is also another reason for the characters to gain a patron. Each slave is bound by a leather collar that prevents their simply leaving the Slave Pits without incurring horrid pain, followed by death. Perhaps their patron can help them remove the collars?

There are opportunities to find loot in Thralls of the Sun—they lie beneath the Slave Pits in the lost Crypt of Ubara-Atutum. The dungeon of the adventure consists of four levels, divided into two sets of levels, each set being of a different character. The Slave Pits are roughly hewn, leading to caverns and tunnels below, but the Crypt of Ubara-Atutum is older than the Slave Pits, a tomb network cut in an older style and with greater precision. Getting from the first two levels down to the second two will take no little effort, primarily social in nature backed up with a number of puzzles. This perfectly exemplifies Blood & Bronze, which unlike other Retroclones is not quite so focused on combat.

The divide between the two sections means that Thralls of the Sun could be run without each other, though perhaps a little effort would required by the Referee to separate them easily. Further, the player characters may not be guilty of any crime, so why are they in the Slave Pits? Is it to plunder the Crypt of Ubara-Atutum? Or are they after something else? 

Physically, Thralls of the Sun is very nicely presented. This is to be expected, since the core rules for Blood & Bronze were solidly presented and punctuated with some superbly evocative artwork. Its map was also nicely done. Now the writing is as good in Thralls of the Sun, though another edit would not have gone amiss, but the artwork is not as good. This is not to say that the artwork is bad—it is not. It is not just as good as that in the Blood & Bronze core rules. Glynn Seal’s cartography though, is fabulous. Again, it is evocative and flavoursome, detailed and clear, and just really good.

Thralls of the Sun is an impressive first adventure for Blood & Bronze. It should provide multiple sessions of play, but above all it provides a solid reason and motivation to play.