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Friday 2 August 2019

Friday Fantasy: Grinding us

In 2019, The Grinding Gear is ten years old and Forgive Us – Being A Chronicle of the Events Surrounding the Mysterious Disappearance of the Notorious Criminal Gang Known as the Tenebrous Hand. And Other Stories is five years old. Both are scenarios for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying and other ‘Old School’ fantasy roleplaying games. The first is a short, but stunning deathtrap dungeon in the vein of the infamous S1 Tomb of Horrors for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition, but designed for characters of First Level. The second is a piece of naturalistic design, a dungeon that is not a dungeon, a thieves den definitely containing something that neither the thieves nor the player characters want to encounter… To celebrate the dual anniversaries, Andre Novoa—best known as the author of the scenario, The Squid, the Cabal, and the Old Man—has published a scenario inspired by both. 

Grinding Us takes place in the same world as The Grinding Gear and Forgive Us, but geographically, in the same location as The Grinding Gear. In that scenario, an innkeeper took revenge upon adventurers after his daughter fell in love with one, ran off with him, and got killed whilst on an adventure. In revenge, he designed a dungeon to tweak the curiosity of other adventurers and so send them underground and there kill with a series of traps and puzzles. In Grinding Us, the player characters come to that same in, but not to visit (or revisit) The Grinding Gear dungeon. Instead, they are simply passing through when they overhear a group of men talking of a(nother) dungeon a few miles away, full of treasure and just waiting to be delved into and looted. There is even a ‘handy’ map of the dungeon complex for the player characters to find when the trio accidentally drop it and leave it behind when they leave.

The dungeon lies beneath a convent (which appears to have had both monks and nuns) that lies abandoned surrounded by wilderness. There are traps and puzzles right from the start, as well as some hints as to what lies below. Whilst there are two or three monsters to be encountered, in the main, this is not a dungeon with much in the way of combat, focusing instead on exploration, investigation, and examination of their environment in order to work out the puzzles worked throughout its corridors and rooms. The dungeon is not straightforward either, the delvers likely to return to certain points to work what various features—particularly the numerous levers—do when fiddled or interacted with, as they are not immediately obvious (and intentionally so). This less than straightforward design also means that the Referee will need to pay attention to the state of various features of the dungeon and it is probably a good idea for her to prepare a status sheet for the current states of those features and so keep track of them that way…

One of the features that Grinding Us shares with The Grinding Gear is a lack of treasure. This again, is intentional. In The Grinding Gear the promise of treasure drew the player characters deeper into the dungeon in order to make them suffer, as after all, the deeper into the dungeon you get, the more likely there is of there being more treasure—or at least, treasure. In Grinding Us, the same drive works, but here the aim is not to make the player characters suffer, though they will if they fail to get past the dungeon’s traps, solve its puzzles, and so on. Rather, the dungeon is designed as a test, a test of skills for the Thief (or Specialist Class if playing Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying) as a hiring method. The ‘potential’ employers in this case is actually a Thieves Guild, the Tenebrous Hand, which appears in another scenario, and of course, that scenario is Forgive Us. Their presence is prevalent throughout the convent and dungeon, if not in person, then in the hands which decorate the walls and feature in some of the traps and puzzles of the complex. One sign of that failure is for the Thief (or other player character) is to lose one or both hands, and there is plenty of opportunity for that in the dungeon.

There are some decent traps to be found in Grinding Us, but where it is weakest is in its riddles. These are more like trivia questions about the dungeon which the player characters are themselves exploring and of course have forgotten to take notes about. This is definitely a dungeon that the players are going to want to map and the Game Master should probably encourage them to do so. It may well be their source of clues for some of the questions their characters will have to answer.

Physically, Grinding Us is a thirty-five page, 3.05 MB, full-colour PDF. It is very lightly illustrated, the artwork really only serving to break up rather than serve the text, but the maps are decent, whilst the one handout is clear and easy to use. The adventure is very easy to scale, it having no suggested playing Level in terms of the characters, and all the Game Master has to do is adjust the damage inflicted in the various encounters.

Grinding Us is a reasonable enough dungeon. It needs careful staging by the Game Master in order to keep track of its various traps and tricks, and it needs a more meticulous, more careful style of play by the player characters and their adventurers. This is part of the very nature of deathtrap dungeons, but it does not suit every playing group. Grinding Us is a nice nod to both The Grinding Gear and Forgive Us, and probably best used either to tweak your player characters’ curiosity or put the Thief in the players’ party to the test or move them onto more professional adventures.

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