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Friday 10 November 2023

Friday Fantasy: The Precipice of Corruption

The town of Stennard finds itself in desperate need. Due to the constant rain, the fields have become waterlogged and the crops have failed and famine is imminent. The leader of the town, Constable Clarice Hems, has turned to desperate measures and sent the town’s best hunters into the forbidden lands to the west. Hopefully, despite their reputation for being grim and foreboding, even home to evil creatures, the hunters will be able to return with sources of game that will keep the inhabitants of Stennard alive during the forthcoming winter.

Unfortunately, the party has failed to return, and Constable Stennard has been forced to put the callout for help, not just in Stennard, but also the nearby towns, in searching for the missing hunters. Those from near and far—at least as far as the closet town—have assembled in the town hall and following instructions and promise of ten copper piece reward—are ready to follow the road out of Stennard and into the dreary, blighted lands to the west. This is the set-up for The Precipice of Corruption, a scenario for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, the Dungeons & Dragons-style retroclone inspired by ‘Appendix N’ of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition.

The Precipice of Corruption is published by Breaker Press Games and is a Character Funnel. This is a feature of Dungeon Crawl Classics, a
scenario specifically designed for Zero Level Player Characters in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. The Precipice of Corruption is a linear affair, really directing the progress of the Player Characters from the moment they set out on foot from Stennard until they confront the one responsible for the disappearance of the hunters and something much worse in a temple to a vile and corrupt god. Where the scenario really stands out is its tone and artwork. The artwork is heavy and oppressive, run through with the stench of corruption, its style echoing that of much of the British roleplaying titles from the eighties and nineties, such as the Fighting Fantasy solo adventure series or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. In fact, there is an amazing amount of artwork in The Precipice of Corruption, including several that the Judge will want to show her players during play. The tone matches the artwork, vile and repellent, bringing to the fore pits of reeking ordure and maggots and insects that bite and burrow into flesh. Even entering into the forbidden lands to the west is unnerving and again and again, the courage of the Player Characters will be tested. This is handled by a series of fear checks that escalate over the course of the scenario. Succeed, and a Player Character will be able to press on, but fail, and a Player Character will flee, perhaps to safety, perhaps to his death, having run full pelt, in a blind panic, into a hazard that his earlier, cooler head meant he could pass it by.

The adventure is divided into three acts. The first two acts are quite short. ‘Act I: 10 Coppers’ opens the scenario with the Player Characters in Stennard, gives them a chance to hoover up a rumour or two, and gets them to and across the river, either by fording it, or making their way through the unsettling tunnel of the bridge. ‘Act II: Across the River’ finds them on the other and gets them to the final destination of the missing hunter. Here the Player Characters must figure out how to open an otherwise impenetrable door and get inside and onto ‘Act III: The Temple of Herlezzect’. This is the final part of the scenario where all will be revealed the Player Characters, and again, the design of this temple to the Debased God and Patron of Deceit, Corruption, and Decay, is as linear as the rest of the scenario. However, it is not a matter of the Player Characters walking in and making their way to final Hall of Corruption, the inner sanctum. In the warm and foetid air of the temple, they will assaulted and harassed from all sides by Nolids, a tribe of corrupted and degenerate men who have been warped into goblin-like creatures by Herlezzect’s influence and decided to cut of their eyelids in homage, using the cracks in the walls on both sides of the route. Their senses will be constantly assailed by the stench of rotting ordure and the buzzing of insects. There are moments of relief and perhaps even of civilisation, but they are spoiled by the practices and attitudes of the Orange Coven which worships Herlezzect and whose members staff the temple. The final confrontation is intended to be anything other than a ‘TPK’ or ‘Total Party Kill’. ‘Gorrecck the Lidless’, the big monster of the scenario is capable of slaughtering them to a man, Halfling, Elf, or Dwarf, but the advice tells the Judge to play up his arrogance and have him grandstand, rather than run amok. Even so, with the support of magic from a member of the Orange Coven, this is still a challenging fight, just as it should be at the end of a scenario. Options other than simply fighting ‘Gorrecck the Lidless’ are mentioned, but these are not going to go well for the Player Characters.

The Precipice of Corruption is supported with detailed NPCs and monsters. The latter includes the aforementioned Nolids, but also the maggot-like Corpse Crawlers, Giant Spitting Flies, and Scuttling Insects, all of them icky, nasty things. The former includes all of the NPCs that appear in the scenario, the most fun of which are Squelicck, the oily Nolid lieutenant to ‘Gorrecck the Lidless’, and Vela Correnwood, one of the missing hunters, whose reputation in Stennard is that of a witch. This is in fact due to her Luck attribute being so incredibly low that her bad luck not only affects her, but also those around her. This of course, includes the Player Characters, which should be entertaining for all concerned—mostly.

If there is a problem with The Precipice of Corruption, it is that can be expanded with further content. The scenario already includes several suggestions as sequels, but these are not the problem. Rather that Beaker Press Games has released several supplements that expand upon the setting that given the Judge the option of turning the scenario into more than a straightforward Character Funnel that can be run in a session or two or even as a convention scenario. For example, The Stennard Courier Vol. 1 provides details of Stennard, The Tome of Debasement adds spells specific to the Orange Coven, and Wide-eyed Terror, an extended encounter that can be included as part of the scenario. It is annoying to have to purchase all of these extras to add these options, especially when The Precipice of Corruption refers to them in its pages.

Physically, The Precipice of Corruption is solidly presented. The layout and style has a feel of that of the eighties, its art heavy, yet slightly tongue-in-cheek in places. The writing is decent, as are the maps.

The Precipice of Corruption has a lot to recommend it. As a scenario it has a dark, foetid atmosphere that, enhanced by the interior artwork, will have the players, let alone their characters, revulsed and revolted at the effluvia underfoot and the grubby, grotty insects that threaten to bite and burrow. The scenario has a surprisingly European feel to it and anyone looking for a grim and dark Character Funnel should definitely take a look at The Precipice of Corruption.

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