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Friday 1 September 2023

Friday Fantasy: DCC Day #1 Shadow of the Beakmen

As well as contributing to Free RPG Day every year Goodman Games also has its own ‘Dungeon Crawl Classics Day’, which sadly, can be a very North American event. The day is notable not only for the events and the range of adventures being played for Goodman Games’ roleplaying games, but also for the scenarios it releases specifically to be played on the day. For ‘Dungeon Crawl Classics Day 2020’, which took place on Saturday, May 16th, 2020, the publisher released two items. The first was DCC Day #1: Shadow of the Beakmen, a single scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. The second was the DCC Day 2020 Adventure Pack, which not only provided support for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, but also for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set, with a scenario for each. This format has been has been followed for each subsequent DCC Day, that is, a single scenario and an anthology containing two or three scenarios, all of them short, relatively easy to run and add to an ongoing campaign, or even use as a one-shot of convention game.

DCC Day #1: Shadow of the Beakmen is short and it is designed to be played within a four-hour slot, whether that is at a convention or on DCC Day itself.
The scenario is designed for a party of four to eight First Level Player Characters. They are travelling between locations when they come across a small village standing on a lake. From the settlement echo screams and cries of terror, smoke hangs over its rooftops from the buildings already set ablaze, and strange figures move in the shimmering light, some riding crocodiles and wielding a lance of stone tipped with a weird green light in a perversion of the knights of old. Yet this is not what catches the eyes of the adventurers, for a blazing emerald light emanates from beside the lake. There is something dangerous happening there, more dangerous than the marauders roving the streets of the village. As befits a one-shot or convention-style scenario, such as DCC Day #1: Shadow of the Beakmen is that it leaps straight into the situation, presenting the players and their characters with a choice—do they rush to the villagers’ aid or do they ride away? Now to be fair, the Player Characters will be pulled into the adventure whatever choice they make, but DCC Day #1: Shadow of the Beakmen will be all the more interesting if the players decide that the best course of action is to intervene.

Intervention then, sets up what is actually the best scene in the scenario. This is the running battle across the village, down its streets and into the marketplace to the docks and the edge of the lake. It is handled as a series of random encounters, with villagers begging for help, buildings collapsing into flames, and encounters with the strange beaked humanoids, some of whom are riding crocodiles and wielding green-tipped lances, that are attacking the village and attempting to capture the villagers. It feels brutal and desperate. Once at the lakeside, the Player Characters can discover the cause of the light, something strange is summoning something even worse than that attacking the village. More of the beak-faced men! This sets a big battle, but defeating them gives the Player Characters the chance to discover more about the invaders.

The second part of the scenario takes place in the Malachite Stele, a giant stone tower that has erupted from the lake as a result of the summoning. It is a traditional dungeon, although limited to just nine locations and is thus linear in nature. Fortunately, its brevity is made up by its atmosphere, which is muddy and murky, squelchy and slimy, the damp meaning it is also cold. It is thoroughly unpleasant. There is also a good mix of encounters throughout the dungeon. There are pools where the Player Characters can gain great boons or suffer terrible banes in classically random chances, there are chambers with egg sacs incubating more beakmen much like those of Aliens, and there is a challenging big boss encounter at the end, but in between there is the second-best scene in the scenario. This is with the Weaver, a corpulent woman with long silver hair and eight segmented limbs, who spinning the silk that each egg sac is made from. She wants to escape and in the main bit of roleplaying in the scenario, will negotiate for her release. Of course, she cannot be exactly trusted, and it is suggested that if freed, she will want to play a role in the future lives of the Player Characters. Further, if her web is plucked, it enables a Player Character to scry another location in the Malachite Stele complex. This can be random, but it can also be used to hint that the complex contains more rooms than at first seems. Several are behind a secret door—though there is another, more dangerous means of access—and the foresight granted by the web should help the Player Characters to progress further.

Finally, at the top of the Malachite Stele, the Player Characters will face the villain of the scenario, the Master of Shadows. This is a challenging fight, both for the Player Characters to fight and the Judge to run.

Physically, DCC Day #1: Shadow of the Beakmen is decently done. It is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is decent. If there is an issue with the artwork, it is that the Weaver is not illustrated and considering that she has the possibility of her playing a role in the future lives of the Player Characters, not illustrating her was a missed opportunity. Both maps are well done though, and the monsters stats being placed on their stat cards at the back of the adventure makes them easy to use.

DCC Day #1: Shadow of the Beakmen starts with the cliché of a village in peril and gives it an immediacy rarely embraced by that cliché, throwing the Player Characters straight into the action and facing some very strange creatures! The scenario has a couple of really good scenes and plenty of action and really makes for a good low-Level one-shot or convention scenario.

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