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Friday, 9 April 2021

[Friday Fantasy] Down There

With Down There both author and publisher expand their range into a whole other genre, a whole other game system, and a whole other setting. Both Adam Gauntlett and Stygian Fox Publishing are best known for their ventures in Cosmic Horror and titles for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition and Trail of Cthulhu. Adam Gauntlett for titles such as The Man Downstairs and Stygian Fox Publishing for titles such as Things We leave Behind. With Down There, both author and publisher have released their first fantasy adventure, their first scenario for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and their first scenario set in the Forgotten Realms.

Down There—subtitled ‘A Fight Against the Shadows of a Sunken Temple from the Award-Winning Maker of Horror RPG Adventures’—is set in Curgir in the northern vales of the Evermoors in north-west Faerûn, a village famous for its apples and its cider, but also for its strange past. The village was once the site of a great temple which was built following the defeat of a cult devoted to the Horned Devil Caarcrinolaas and subsequently swallowed up by the ground, never to be seen again. Inhabited by a mix of Humans, Halflings, and Half-Orcs, the land on which the village sits is owned Greystone Abbey, which has established a Chapter House in the village. The monks of the Chapter House collect rent, settle disputes, and maintain common land. More recently, the monks at the Chapter House have decided to re-establish the temple with the aim of this one not sinking into the ground like the last one. To that end, the head of the Chapter House hired Marin Chain-Breaker, a Dragonborn Exorcist to determine a means of preventing that—and now he has. He plans to hold a holy wedding on the land where the new temple will be, the ceremony aiding in the reconsecration of the ground. Designed for Player Characters of First to Fourth Level, Down There will see them encounter strange creatures of shadow, dark secrets of the past, and Halfling Monks who are not what they seem!

The Player Characters are hired by Marin Chain-Breaker to escort him to Curgir and help him in his plans to re-establish the temple and prevent its disappearance. The story kicks into action when they come across signs of an abduction on the path and a note that should have been taken to Greystone Abbey. It appears that of late, the villagers are upset about the Chapter House’s leadership of Curgir, but do not give specifics as to why. Once the Player Characters reach Curgir, they find its inhabitants slightly subdued, but they can learn more with a bit of gossip. All clues point to the Chapter House, and there the Player Characters will have the first of the scenario’s two confrontations with darkness and evil. The second will likely follow after—though the scenario’s two big encounters can be played in any order—and take place in the remains of the temple that was lost… There the Player Characters will battle for the souls of the bride and groom to be, and more!

Down There involves a good mix of investigation and interaction, as well as the two combative confrontations. It comes very well appointed, as you would expect for a scenario from Stygian fox Publishing. The artwork is excellent and the maps very clear, whether for the players or the Dungeon Master. It does need an edit in places, though. Unfortunately, that is a minor problem when compared to the difficulty that the Dungeon master might have in running Down There. The issue that the contents of the scenario are not very organised. Once past the short introduction, the reader is quickly into a list of rumours and clues relating to the mystery of what is going on in Curgir, followed by an explanation of what Marin Chain-Breaker wants, and then into the scenario itself. Down There simply does not take the time to explain to the reader and potential Dungeon Master what exactly is going on in the village before diving into the plot itself. The result is that Dungeon Master has to learn it fully as she reads and thus everything is at first a surprise followed by a greater effort to pull its various elements into something that she can run.

Despite the issue with the organisation, 
Down There is a more than serviceable scenario. It is well presented with good maps and nicely done NPCs. It neatly subverts both the jolly image of both the Halfling Race and the reserved characters of the Monk Class, together a default combination in Dungeons & Dragons since Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, and turns them into something greedy and venal. There is a strong streak of horror too, with some creepy moments, primarily involving the shadows which permeate the village. Whilst it needs more preparation than it really should, Down There is a good combination of the horror genre with the fantasy and would add a darker, slightly twisted feel to any Dungeons & Dragons setting, not just the Forgotten Realms.

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