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Friday, 25 November 2016

Crawl Classics for Two

For Free RPG 2016—the tenth Free RPG Day—Goodman Games released Dungeon Crawl Classics: Lankhmar – The Madhouse Meet/Mutant Crawl Classics: The Museum at the End of the Time. These were two scenarios, the first for the Lankhmar setting for Dungeon Crawl Classics, Goodman Games’ Basic Dungeons & Dragons to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons retroclone, the second for the forthcoming post-apocalypse RPG, Mutant Crawl Classics. The book is just twenty-two pages long, but contains two scenarios designed to serve as introductions to their respective settings.

‘The Madhouse Meet’ is designed to introduce Judge and players alike to Dungeon Crawl Classics: Lankhmar, the setting of Nehwon based upon the fiction of Fritz Leiber. It is a Level 1 Adventure written for use with First Level characters, a ‘Meet’ adventure that throws them together in situation and forces them to work together. No matter what characters the players create, they all begin play in the same cell somewhere in the city of Lankhmar, manacled to the wall. Their challenge is to get out of their predicament and to discover how they ended up. The adventure is specifically written to that end, designed to put the adventurers into this predicament and then give them every opportunity to get out of it. Once free of their manacles, the player characters are without their possessions and so this will probably colour how they proceed. If they run into every situation, the likelihood is that more of their number will be killed. As the adventure advises, ‘The Madhouse Meet’ should best be approached with “stealth over steel”.

What lies beyond the confines of the player characters’ cell is small dungeon. It does not amount to more than twelve rooms and apart from the strange sorceries behind their abduction, ‘The Madhouse Meet’ is probably as mundane and as straightforward a dungeon you would want to run in a demonstration game or as an introduction to a campaign. This does not mean that the scenario is bad. It is well written and comes with detail enough to engage the player characters in addition to their drive to escape from their incarceration. If there is a downside to ‘The Madhouse Meet’, it is that there is relatively little in it to tie it into the Lankhmar setting, but this does mean it could be set in a campaign of the Judge’s own devising.

Accompanying ‘The Madhouse Meet’ is ‘The Museum at the End of the Time’, a scenario for Mutant Crawl Classics. This is Goodman Games’ love letter to the post-apocalyptic science fantasy of TSR, Inc.’s Gamma World in which young tribesmen—humans, mutants, mutated animals, sentient plants, and others—leave their village to explore the word of Terra A.D., a world wrought by some great disaster that felled the Ancients and left behind a mutated, twisted planet full of secrets and artefacts. ‘The Museum at the End of the Time’ is a character funnel designed to take multiple Zero Level characters per player and put them through danger after danger to see who will survive and thus become First Level and full player characters. Taking its cue from ‘Rite of Passage’, the scenario from Gamma World, Third Edition, in ‘The Museum at the End of the Time’ the player characters are mutant tribesmen ready to undertake the Rite of Passage. They must journey out into the radioactive and dangerous wilderness surrounding the lands of the Tribe of Cog and not only survive, but return with an artefact to prove their maturity and take their place as Seekers of the tribe.

Rather than simply search nearby lands, the player characters are going to be brazen. They are going to journey to the glassy Glow Desert and the initial part of the adventure covers their foray into this radioactive wasteland. There are strange encounters to be had here—fungoid-reanimated corpses, serpents that hunt beneath the desert’s glassy surface, and more—but eventually they come to ruins of a structure built by the Ancients. Below is a small collection of rooms that make up a combination of museum and research centre. Though there are combat encounters to be had, the emphasis in the adventure is on exploration of these rooms and examination of the things to be found in them, rather than combat or roleplaying. There is plenty to experience here, from visions of the past to experiences beyond the immediate setting of Terra A.D., such that ‘The Museum at the End of the Time’ has elements of being a ‘funhouse dungeon’, a dungeon where matters regarding ecology, naturalism, or even logic take a backseat to presenting a good—and fun—challenge to the players whose characters are exploring it. This is not say that there is no sense of naturalism to the adventure, but this a museum from the far future, being explored in the far, far future. So there is certain wackiness to the affair.

Part of the joy of ‘The Museum at the End of the Time’ is that wackiness and the flavour and detail that add to that. The other joy is the author’s obvious love of English Science Fiction, which is in parts weird and in parts knowingly silly. Now the downside to the adventure is that it has been released when the rules for Mutant Crawl Classics are not yet available. It is of course compatible with the rules in Dungeon Crawl Classics and rules are included for player characters attempting to work out how artefacts function, to get the most of ‘The Museum at the End of the Time’, the Mutant Crawl Classics rules are a must. Of course, if you apply the highly appropriate Clarke’s Third Law, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ to the scenario and it is less of an issue. There is even the hint that the world of Dungeon Crawl Classics exists as part of the past of Terra A.D.!

Physically, Dungeon Crawl Classics: Lankhmar – The Madhouse Meet/Mutant Crawl Classics: The Museum at the End of the Time is well presented. The artwork might not be the best, but the cartography is nicely done and the writing is engaging.

So of the two scenarios in Dungeon Crawl Classics: Lankhmar – The Madhouse Meet/Mutant Crawl Classics: The Museum at the End of the Time, it is a case that ‘The Museum at the End of the Time’ is much better than ‘The Madhouse Meet’. There is more flavour and detail to it, and simply, it is just more fun. As good a preview as it is, it is just a pity that you cannot yet play it… Similarly, ‘The Madhouse Meet’ does not quite have the feel of Lankhmar to it, but this does not mean that it is not a decent dungeon. Despite these imperfections, Dungeon Crawl Classics: Lankhmar – The Madhouse Meet/Mutant Crawl Classics: The Museum at the End of the Time is a fun package that provides a solid preview of both RPGs.