Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday 19 May 2023

The Other OSR: Treasures Of The Troll King

Every city is built on the ruins of a previous city. Buildings are torn down and new ones built in their stead. As the decades pass, a city changes. The torn down buildings are forgotten and their histories lost, and the new city continues to build upwards and over. What is left underneath are cellars and tunnels and sewers and the imprints of the previous buildings. Deep in the bowels below the ancient city of Galgenbeck lies the sunken chapel that houses Niduk, the Troll King, exiled long ago and driven into the darkness, to rot, wither, and be forgotten. Whilst the existence of the Troll King has passed into legend, the existence of his treasure has not. Whether you are dying and believe a cure to your malady might be found amongst his hoard, you have a debt to pay and his hoard is ready source of coins, you leapt into the sewers and ran into Niduk by mistake, or you simply want to rob him, somehow, you found your way into the foetid, stinking tunnels below the oldest parts of the city of Galgenbeck, in the land of Tveland, hemmed in by the tunnel walls and the ordure from the city above, but desperate and determined to find the chapel of Niduk, the Troll King, and get out again.

This is the set-up for Treasures Of The Troll King, a sewer-crawl and dungeon for use with Mörk Borg, the Swedish pre-apocalypse Old School Renaissance retroclone designed by Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell and published by Free League Publishing. The adventure itself is published by Loot the Room, following a successful Kickstarter campaign and is a relatively short, one or two-session scenario keyed around five locations—one major and five minor. The five minor locations include a collapsed building where the Player Characters are likely to encounter Niduk for the first time, a well, a graffitied gallery, and a hanging garden—the latter consisting of roots hanging down from the ceiling. The majority of these described in a succinct style, but the well is expanded upon to brilliant effect. It is not just a well, but a wishing well and a wishing with a pile of coins each with an associated unfulfilled wish. If any of the Player Characters pilfer the coins, then they become responsible for the wishes and are cursed to fulfil them. This carries on after the Treasures Of The Troll King has been played through, potentially setting up a campaign of the Player Characters being forced do ‘good’ things as they attempt to deal with all of the wishes. There is a table to randomise the wishes, but this almost deserves a book of its own.

The main room area consists of the chapel where Niduk has been hiding out all of this time. This has the feel of a dungeon, an ancient ruin strewn with the dead and detritus, half-haunted temple, half-charnel chapel. It consists of just eleven locations each described in detail, but without overwhelming the Game Master. The chapel is damp, dank, grim and grimy, haunted by ghosts and the undead, its slide into sewage-soaked ruin transcends the traditional depiction of the gothic church. There are hints of its former grandeur and gothic edifice behind all of the dirt and the decay, but they are long faded and despoiled. With only a few rooms, there are relatively few encounters to be had in the chapel, and even fewer random ones, but the ultimate encounter is of course, with Niduk, the Troll-King, himself. He receives a two-page spread of his, as does his den, for he may encountered slumbering there, or if their activities have alerted him to their presence, stalking the Player Characters. He is a great behemoth of a beast with feats capable of pulverising a Player Character in one blow. The Player Characters will be very lucky to defeat him—and that is on their second encounter.

If the Chapel of Niduk, the Troll King, is the ultimate destination in Treasures Of The Troll King, the first part of Treasures Of The Troll King is all about getting there. The route is not mapped out. In fact, there is no route. Instead, the Player Characters engage in a point-crawl—or even ‘sewer-crawl’—with even the points, or rather, the ‘spaces’ as Treasures Of The Troll King calls them, randomly encountered. The spaces of the point-crawl themselves are the aforementioned minor locations, the collapsed building where Niduk’s Banquet can be found, the graffitied gallery, the hanging garden, and the well. Of these, only Niduk’s Banquet is mandatory as an encounter, intended to provide the Player Characters with a foreshadowing of the nature of the creature they hunt. In between the spaces, the Game Master rolls for random encounters, with two small tables providing a mix of reusable and once-only encounters. Effectively, Treasures Of The Troll King is a linear adventure, though it will not feel like that in play.

In addition, Treasures Of The Troll King provides tables of reasons for the Player Characters to go looking, rumours, treasures to be found, new scrolls—both clean and unclean, and a table of sewer features to add flavour and detail to the tunnels as the Player Characters explore.

Physically, Treasures Of The Troll King is surprising. It approaches the artpunk style of Mörk Borg, but never steps over the line into the artpunk style. Consequently, the scenario is actually a little less busy and a lot more accessible, and thus easier to run from the page. The scenario is also written with some fantastic descriptions and details that add to the muck and the mire, and then twist it further in short fashion.

Treasures Of The Troll King combines the doom-laden artpunk style Mörk Borg with the pairing of a flavoursomely procedurally-created point crawl and some loathsome locations. The chapel itself is signature location of course, but the brilliance of the well of unfulfilled wishes almost equals it in terms of play potential—though that play will become apparent after the ‘Treasures of the Troll King’ have been stolen and the Player Characters have returned to the surface. Treasures Of The Troll King is an excellent and easy to run mini-dungeon, atmospherically foul, and a great addition to any Mörk Borg campaign.

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