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Saturday, 11 November 2017

de Harken Inheritance II

MontiDots Ltd. publishes both horror and fantasy scenarios. The former, The Fenworthy Inheritance and The Smoking Mirror, are set in the Jazz Age of the 1920s and written for use with the GORE™ Open Game Content Rules published by Goblinoid Games—best known for the Old School Renaissance Retroclone, Labyrinth Lord—means that they are surprisingly compatible with the mechanics of Call of Cthulhu. The latter, consisting of the trilogy, MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall, MD3 Necromancer’s Bane, and MD5 Tantulus, are written for use Knights & Knaves’ OSRIC™ System (Old School Reference and Index Compilation) for its mechanics. This means that it is roughly compatible with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but the advantage of this and many other Old School Renaissance roleplaying games, scenarios, and supplements is how compatible they are with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition.

This trilogy takes place in and around the village of Highcliff Gard, located at the heart of Highcliff Gard Vale in the south of Fiefdom of Kaldemar. Insular and isolated, there are major differences between the world of MD3 Necromancer’s Bane and that of standard Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy. Both the people and the valley are, in particular, this showing in their attitude towards Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, and the like. Locally, they are known as the ‘Erle Folk’ and possess the ‘Fae Sight’ to one degree or another. Notably, the peoples of Highcliff Gard Vale are ill disposed towards them. This means that all player character ‘Erle Folk’ will have the Fae Sight and if they Elves, suffer some prejudice, so the players do need to know that their characters are going to be subject to xenophobia and be okay with that before play starts.

The reasons for the prejudice lie at the heart of the trilogy, but are fully explained in the scenario’s appendix, as are the changes to both the Cleric and Magic-User Classes. Clerics in Highcliff Gard are polytheistic, worshipping a pantheon rather than a single god and making offerings to each of the gods of the pantheon as necessary. This gives Clerics access to a wide range of spheres and thus spells, the given pantheon for Highcliff Gard suggesting a Norse influence—no surprise given that the designer is from Yorkshire. Magic-Users can brew potions with the aid of a liquid known as Aqua Conjurum, which is brewed by alchemists typically of higher Level.

Designed for First Level and Second Level characters, MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall brought the adventurers to Highcliff Gard and had them investigate the strange curse which beset the valley’s rulers, the de Harken family. This saw them investigate a recently discovered complex of rooms and tunnels below Harken Hall. The relatively small dungeon revealed the nature of the curse and pointed towards to a possible cure. Locating this cure lies at the heart of MD3 Necromancer’s Bane: An Adventure for characters of 3rd to 5th level and the catacombs cut in the south cliff face of Highcliff Gard Vale. It is here that the peoples of the valley inter their dead—and it is from here that knocking sounds have been heard…

What lies beyond the doors leading into the catacombs is a good-sized dungeon, with its sixty-six halls, tombs, crypts, and shrines split across two levels. Just as in the dungeon in MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall, this dungeon is rich in funereal, memorial, and sepulchral detail, almost Victorian in its oppressiveness. There are rooms and locations here whose description are a page or more in length and the players are likely to want to take notes as their characters explore its furthest reaches. Given that this is a catacomb, it should be no surprise that the dungeon is rife with the undead, not all of it inimical to the player characters, but as they advance into its depths, it should become apparent that some demonic presence is working against them. Although the adventurers can withdraw once their objective is complete, that is finding the means to a cure to the de Harken family curse, confronting this presence will both ease their exit and help their efforts in future scenarios.

Given the nature of foes faced in MD3 Necromancer’s Bane, the party will definitely require a Cleric as well as the usual Fighters, Magic-Users, and Thieves. They will also need magic and magic items capable of working against the undead. Certainly, blessed weapons are the bare minimum. Fortunately, the scenario provides multiple means and weapons, though they will have to search for them, so it pays for the characters to be methodical in their exploration. Another aid that the party will have is a set of keys to the catacombs, lent by the Keeper of the Catacombs, which will grant them access to the majority of the complex. Actually obtaining these keys is handled in a delightfully macabre scene that the Game Master will enjoy roleplaying. In fact, this scene is probably the scenario’s best roleplaying moment, as the rest is mostly exploration and combat.

One idea presented in MD3 Necromancer’s Bane is that since the adventurers are exploring a catacomb where the dead of lawful, abiding citizens are interred, looting their final resting place may not exactly be, well, lawful, and further, it may be aiding the demonic presence at the heart of the dungeon. Conversely, lawful acts may hinder him. Unfortunately, this is left undeveloped and up to the Game Master to work out how this would be applied in game. This is such a shame as this could have rewarded the players and their characters in ways other than treasure as well as giving opportunities to roleplay their characters’ Alignments. Further, it comes after MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall went to great lengths to reward the characters for doing more than just killing creatures and taking their treasure—so this is even more of a missed opportunity.

As with MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall, the format for MD3 Necromancer’s Bane is that of a spiralbound book. This allows it to sit flat on the table and easy to flip through. Again, as with MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall, the author has done the illustrations in MD3 Necromancer’s Bane and they are very good indeed. It is a pity that there is not a booklet of pictures illustrating both rooms, foes, and objects, as they would make for excellent handouts. The cartography is decent, much better than in MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall, the dungeon being done in quite a bit of detail. What lets the book down is the editing, which could be tighter, suffering from self-edited as it does.

Being quite so tightly tied to the events of MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall, the Game Master will need to work hard if he plans to run MD3 Necromancer’s Bane as a standalone adventure rather than as a sequel. In fact, it would be easier to run MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall than all of that effort!

Where MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall focused on investigation and exploration, MD3 Necromancer’s Bane shifts its focus to exploration and combat. It is very much more of a classic dungeon and thus a classic dungeon adventure, so will be much more of change if the Game Master is running it as a sequel to MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall than if run as a standalone. Overall though—and despite missing a trick or two—MD3 Necromancer’s Bane is a good dungeon and a decent adventure.

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MontiDots Ltd does not currently have a website. Copies of MD3 Necromancer’s Bane and other scenarios are available direct from the author.