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Friday 21 January 2022

Friday Fantasy: Bastard King of Thraxford Castle

The warning is well known throughout the area. There is a curse upon Thraxford Castle and all who enter its gates. A Curse of rotting flesh, of unlife as one of the undead, for all who die within its walls must rise again at dawn to play out a danse macabre of their lives the day before. It is a Curse lain upon the soldiers and occupants of Thraxford Castle by The Bastard King’s slaughter of his kin. None can leave and all who put a foot within a thousand paces of that accursed place will fall foul of the curse… Bastard King of Thraxford Castle is a macabre, gothic mini-location inspired by both British medieval history, Hammer horror films, and even British Dungeons & Dragons adventures drawn from the pages of White Dwarf magazine back in its heyday, such as ‘The Lichway’ by Albie Fiore (White Dwarf Issue No. 9, October/November 1979). Published by Leyline Press and like The Isle of Glaslyn and The God With No Name before it, Bastard King of Thraxford Castle manages to fit an adventure onto the equivalent of four pages and then present it on a pamphlet which folds down to roughly four-by-six inches. One the one side it provides all of the details of the descriptions of the outer and inner wards, whilst on the other there is a map of the whole of the castle, plus descriptions of the actual keep.

Bastard King of Thraxford Castle is designed for use with Old School Essentials Classic Fantasy and presents a location supposedly on the Isle of Kybaros . Here the Bastard King took his last stand against invading forces after he had risen up and defeated King Hardrada at the Battle of Ashing Hill, and was cursed for his hubris. One of the great scenes later in the scenario depicts this battle—taking place in the castle’s great hall—and if the Player Characters are not careful, they may actually get caught up in the nightly (knightly?) reenactment! The scenario is designed for Player Characters of low to medium Level, and a Cleric, although any party upon discovering the true nature of the situation in Thraxford Castle going full bore slaughtering the undead and attempting Turn Undead, will themselves in a for surprise—the dead rise the following morning, the undead rise again as more powerful creatures of death, and they themselves are trapped for the duration... can the Player Characters discover the secrets  and a way to solve their predicament and that of the inhabitants of Thraxford Castle?

What the Player Characters find within the walls of Thraxford Castle is a theatre of ‘Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol’, in some places a slaughterhouse, in others the inhabitants of the castle now long undead, but still going about a semblance of their former lives. Yet long cut off from the outside world, they have been forced to turn to other means to continue that semblance which resembles a horror show, from the tanner to the food at The Peckled ’Hen, and which should invoke a strong sense of revulsion in the players—if not the Player Characters. Many of these scenes should warrant fear checks of some kind, and it is a pity that not every retroclone does, for Bastard King of Thraxford Castle is very much a horror scenario. Nevertheless, despite the weirdness of undead community to be found in the castle, these are opportunities for roleplay and interaction, and they are the surest means of determining what is going on in the castle—along with exploring both its and its grounds, of course.

Bastard King of Thraxford Castle definitely has Shakespearean overtones—definitely of Macbeth and Richard III—combined with the Gothic, and there is potential for some great scenes during the adventure. The Game Master is given some fun NPCs to portray as well as some good ones to roleplay, including what would be traditionally treated as monsters. The scenario includes a pair of new monsters too, the Giant Undead Maggot and the Giant Undead Botfly. Yet as much as Bastard King of Thraxford Castle makes the Game Master want to run it, there is still a lot that she has to do to get the scenario to the table. Apart from a little background about the Bastard Knight rebelling and defeating, even possibly killing, the previous king, the background to the scenario is underwritten. In a sense, this means the Game Master has a lot of flexibility in dropping Bastard King of Thraxford Castle into her campaign, but it skews too far that way by not giving the Game Master the choice but to do that. There is no explanation of the events of the rebellion and there are certainly no hooks given to help the Game Master get her players and their characters involved.

Physically, and once again, Bastard King of Thraxford Castle is a piece of design concision. It is compact and thus easy to store, and unlike The God With No Name, this makes better use of the format, with the inner and outer wards of the castle described on the one side, and the keep on the other along with the map. Besides the cover, the only illustrations in the scenario are those of the new creatures. Those are decent, as is the map of the castle. The scenario does need another edit though.

Although it needs a limited amount of development to make it easier to even run as a one-shot, let alone add to a campaign, Bastard King of Thraxford Castle makes good use of its format and size. In places weird and creepy, Bastard King of Thraxford Castle really goes full theatre of blood, and turns up the horrifying rather than the horror. If the Game Master r wants a short—two sessions or so—bloodily repulsive horror scenario for her campaign, then Bastard King of Thraxford Castle certainly delivers.

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