Friday, 21 May 2021
Friday Fantasy: The Weird That Befell Drigbolton
The is the set-up for The Weird That Befell Drigbolton, a scenario published by Necrotic Gnome, for use with Labyrinth Lord, but very easy to use with other retroclones. Designed for a party of Player Characters of Third and Fifth Levels, it is set in Dolmenwood, the great forest region currently only explored through the fanzine, Wormskin. It takes place in one hex, roughly six miles across, focusing in on and around the hamlet of Drigbolton, and is designed as a one hex, hexcrawl—or sandbox. Drigbolton lies at the heart of the hex, one of only four manmade features in the region, with another six consisting of bogs, caves, cliffs, lakes, pools, and woodland. The other feature is the crater where the star landed. The geographical limitations of the scenario means that essentially the whole hex and the adventure could easily be transplanted to a setting other than Dolmenwood, though the weird nature of the scenarios means that it may not fit that setting.
Besides the three hooks to bring the Player Characters—and if playing The Weird That Befell Drigbolton as a one-shot, why not mix-and-match the three to provide differing motivations and drive some in-party friction?—to Drigbolton, one of the major features of the scenario is the passing of time. In most of the major locations in the scenario, events will take place whether the Player Characters are there or not, so if the party arrives at a location two or more days into exploring the area, events will have already happened. This gives the scenario a strong sense of time passing and as the events get weirder and weirder, a sense of urgency as they escalate towards something… Though the Player Characters are unlikely to know quite what until it is too late.
Whether drawn by the lure of star-metal, the location of The Black Book of Llareggub, or rumours of a previously unknown Arch-Mage, the Player Characters will make their way to the hamlet where they find the Drigboltonians in high glee, giddily guzzling down pot after pot of the star-jelly, ladling it into their recipes, traipsing back and forth to the crater to collect yet more in whatever container they have to hand. The Player Characters will be encouraged to join in their religious fervour, but will be otherwise will find the Drigboltonians friendly and helpful, ready and willing to share all manner of rumours and conjecture as to the nature of what fell from the sky. This should spur the Player Characters to visit locations beyond the hamlet and so learn more. The likelihood is that this will include the Crater itself, the Oath House—home to the local ‘hearth-laird’, an old customary position in this region and the nearest thing that the scenario has to a dungeon, a nearby bog, and more. Wherever they go, the Player Characters will encounter the weird again and again—and increasingly weird. This starts with the lack of graveyards in Drigbolton, the Drigboltonians instead having a Room of Repast in their homes, where they keep their dead relatives, ancestor-worshipping them, and ritually, symbolically feeding them. Elsewhere, they will find fornicating statuary, learned taxidermy, ambulatory cuts of meat, awoken beasts high on the star-jelly, colours given to vagrancy, and that is just in the scenario’s set locations. The Weird That Befell Drigbolton also comes with multiple random events—environmental effects such as a sudden, localised downfall of purple rain or the sky being filled with laughter, encounters both mundane and weird, like a human maiden and hunters hunting unicorns or an awakened fox.
The Weird That Befell Drigbolton is primarily an investigative and an exploration scenario, one with a countdown to something apocalyptic, unless the Player Characters intervene, though initially they will be unaware of the countdown. The likelihood is that the Player Characters will be overwhelmed by the weirdness that oozes and drips from every page, because the Game Master is presented with a wealth of weirdness and peculiar persons in and around Drigbolton portray. For the Game Master who enjoys the weird and roleplaying a wide cast of NPCs, many of them are going to be such fun to roleplay and she will find much to relish in The Weird That Befell Drigbolton.
However, The Weird That Befell Drigbolton could be better organised and certainly its maps could have done with a key, rather than having to flip through the book to find the right location description. This has been fixed with a reference sheet, but that is separate to the book. Another issue is that the writing is not as direct as it could be, so it requires a little more preparation than it really should. Then there is the issue of what happens after the countdown. This is left up to the Game Master to decide, but a suggestion or two might have been helpful.
Physically, The Weird That Befell Drigbolton is well presented. Although the writing could have done with a tighter edit, the artwork is decent, capturing much of the weirdness described in the text and all suitable to be shown to the Player Characters.
The Weird That Befell Drigbolton is probably just a little too weird and apocalyptic to serve as an introduction to Dolmenwood in an ongoing campaign, but as a one-shot or perhaps culmination of an ongoing campaign, it dishes out strangeness after strangeness inspired by both H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space. Then like the star-jelly itself, Necrotic Gnome bakes the bucolic fruitiness of Dolmenwood into The Weird That Befell Drigbolton’s mix to serve up a rich concoction of peculiarities and aberrations.