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Friday 26 May 2023

Friday Fantasy: OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi

The world of Okkorim was rich and verdant. Then the Empire of Ydrissid rose and fell and so we have the Blighted Lands. The sorcerers of the Empire of Ydrissid commanded great magic and not only established dominion over Okkorim, but also out onto other planes. Key to their power were the ‘eanifisilat’ or ‘dragoncoils’, the focal points where magical power coalesced around slumbering elemental dragons. Yet over time, the power of the ‘eanifisilat’ began to fade, eventually dwindling to nothing and the sorcerer god-kings of the empire sought other means to maintain their arcane power. They could not recreate the ‘eanifisilat’ which had enabled them at their height, to send whole armies across the empire in the blink of an eye, but they could create artifacts imbued with the power of the elemental dragons—air, earth, fire, and water. One of these artefacts is the Occulus of Senrahbah. Like many of its type, it would lost in the years that followed the collapse of the Empire of Ydrissid due to the Wrath which turned its territories into the Blighted Lands and many lesser empires and nations rose and fell. Several factions in the port city of Chentoufi believe they have determined the location of the Occulus of Senrahbah. If there is even the slimmest possibility of holding a sliver of the power of the sorcerer god-kings of the Empire of Ydrissid, then these factions will do their utmost to either obtain it, or prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Enter the Player Characters…

This is the set-up for OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi, an adventure compatible with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition which saw the Player Characters cross back and forth across the city of Chentoufi and then finally below it in order to locate the ‘Occulus of Senrahba’, also known as the ‘Eye of Chentoufi’. Having outraced several factions either wanting to obtain the Eye of Chentoufi for themselves or deny it to everyone, they encountered and defeated Yusepefesos, the greater water jinn, supposedly protecting the location of the ‘Occulus of Senrahba’ and there the scenario came to a conclusion. OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi is notable for several things. First and foremost, it is set in ‘Luke Gygax’s World of Okkorim’ and thus co-authored by Luke Gygax, the son of E. Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and thus the hobby itself. Second, it is the first part of a trilogy, which will continue with OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi and OS3 The Fate of Chentoufi. Third, it can be run as a tournament scenario, in just a single four-hour session, and there are notes and points awards so that the players’ progress can be tracked and scores compared at the end of the tournament. Alternatively, it can played through in two or more sessions with the addition of the scenario’s optional scenes. Fourth, it was written as a special tournament scenario for Gary Con XIII, the convention held each March in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi picks up where left OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi off. Designed for a party of Seventh to Ninth Level Player Characters, it is also a tournament scenario, having been run at Gary Con XV. A portal behind the body of Yusepefesos opens up on some stairs that lead deep into the earth under the city of Chentoufi. Across its three acts, the adventure will take the Player Characters not only deeper below the city, but deeper into its past and that of the Empire of Ydrissid and its secrets. The Player Characters first discover an imperial prison followed by a series of giant-worm chewed tunnels, known as the ‘Carve’, and below that, the ‘Dahloom’ or ‘Everdark’. This is akin to the Underdark of the Forgotten Realms and the scenario plays up its alien nature, being damp, even sometimes wet, unlike the Blighted Lands of the surface world above.

The majority of the encounters in the adventure are combat related. The Dungeon Master though, with have fun roleplaying
‘Varneezer’, a crotchety old Halfling adventurer, who is very much out of his depth. He is not, rather just out of his time, and there are some nicely done clues included in his suggested dialogue. The combat encounters tend towards the epic, each of the three parts of the scenario involving or ending in a big fight. Ultimately, the scenario ends with the Player Characters still in the hunt for ‘Eye of Chentoufi’. Their reward for their efforts feels much bigger than that of OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi, they are none the wiser as to the location of the trilogy’s MacGuffin.

Unfortunately, OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi suffers from many of the same issues as OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi. The primary problem is that there is not enough context for the benefit of the players and their characters. There is no background information that is readily presentable to the players, whether on the Blighted Lands or the city of Chentoufi. So, the players will have difficulty getting a feel for the setting as a place, let alone motivation for their Player Characters. This starts with the beginning of the scenario—en media res, and in context of being a direct sequel to OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi, that is fine if the players have played it. Not though as a standalone scenario which it is suggested that OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi could be run as, because not enough attention is paid to why the Player Characters are there and what they are doing. Some of this could have been alleviated with some pre-generated Player Characters, but there are none. Which makes no sense for a tournament scenario, especially one set in a background which is not vanilla fantasy. The background to Okkorim, the Blighted Lands, and Chentoufi all have an Arabic or Middle Eastern feel, much like Al-Qadim: Land of Fate. Some of this information could have been presented in a set of pre-generated Player Characters, which could also been used to provide motivation for the players and their characters and have been used to showcase what can be played in the ‘Luke Gygax’s World of Okkorim’ and its differences between it and Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. This is a missed opportunity—though Luke Gygax does promise that the setting of Okkorim will be presented in a supplement of its own.

The scenario also starts of in an underwheming fashion. Or rather with a puzzle whose solution defaults to either a skill roll or a Comprehend Languages spell. The puzzles were the highlight in
OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi, so why not present the first puzzle as a puzzle rather than a mechanical problem which does not serve the story? That way, the players could have been rewarded with points in the tournament for their deductive skills rather than combative skills. Further, whilst the highlights of OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi were its big puzzle encounter, this is really the only puzzle in the scenario, which makes it all the more disappointing. Further, in comparison to OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi, there are far fewer optional scenes in OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi. In fact, there is only one, and arguably, that scene is not optional, since it provides information about what happened to ‘Eye of Chentoufi’ and who was responsible, thus setting up event for OS3 The Fate of Chentoufi.

OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi has some great features, much like OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi.
Each of its three acts starts with a summary of the plot for that act; there are suggestions as to what music to play during various scenes (with links to YouTube for the PDF version of the scenario); and both the monsters and the treasures are decently done. opportunity.

Physically, OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi is hit and miss. The artwork is excellent, as is the cartography, and on the whole, the scenario is a fine-looking book. However, the editing is inconsistent.

OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi is simply not as good a a scenario as
OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi. It is too linear, there are far fewer optional scenes which helped add detail and colour to the first scenario in the trilogy, the scenes are all combat-orientated, and its lacks the puzzle scenes which were the best feature of OS1 The Eye of Chentoufi. Instead, OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi does have a fun NPC for the Dungeon Master to portray. Some of the issues with the scenario are due to it being designed as a tournament scenario, others not, but ultimately, OS2 The Heart of Chentoufi is the middle part of a trilogy and feels like it, connecting the beginning and end parts of the trilogy, and not necessarily in an interesting way.


Luke Gygax will be at UK Games Expo
from Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th, 2023.

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