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Friday 8 December 2023

Friday Fantasy: Blasphemy & Larceny in Lankhmar

Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #5:
Blasphemy & Larceny in Lankhmar is a scenario for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and the fifth scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set. Scenarios for Dungeon Crawl Classics tend be darker, grimmer, and even pulpier than traditional Dungeons & Dragons scenarios, even veering close to the Swords & Sorcery subgenre. Scenarios for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set are set in and around the City of the Black Toga, Lankhmar, the home to the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, the creation of author Fritz Leiber. The city is described as an urban jungle, rife with cutpurses and corruption, guilds and graft, temples and trouble, whores and wonders, and more. Under the cover the frequent fogs and smogs, the streets of the city are home to thieves, pickpockets, burglars, cutpurses, muggers, and anyone else who would skulk in the night! Which includes the Player Characters. And it is these roles which the Player Characters get to be in Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #5: Blasphemy & Larceny in Lankhmar, small time crooks trying to make a living and a name for themselves, but without attracting the attention of either the city constabulary or worse, the Thieves’ Guild! The job in this scenario is a night spent breaking into the abandoned tower temple dedicated to a long-forgotten god.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #5: Blasphemy & Larceny in Lankhmar
is designed for two to three Player Characters of Fifth Level, but can be expanded to between four and six Player Characters. It could be played through in a single session, but will probably take two. The scenario takes advantage of one of the best features of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set in building a story and a plot around the Player Characters’ activities around the city. Much like the first scenario for the setting, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #1: Gang Lords of Lankhmar, it grounds them in the city as scum, trying to make a living or get by through grift or theft. It begins with one of their number, waking up in an alley, groggy and hung over after a night out, of which the Player Character only has a hazy memory. Staggering out of the fog comes someone he knows, a local pawnbroker, Vigomia, suffering from multiple stab wounds, and before he dies leaning over the Player Character, he whispers an apology for hiring him for a job into his ear. The alleyway is on the edge of the Forbidden Temple Quarter and the trail of Vogomia’s blood leads back to one of the city’s forbidden temples… No-one knows exactly what lies in these forbidden temples—secrets, treasures, mysteries, blasphemies?—but being caught breaking into one will land even the best of thieves in deep trouble with the city authorities and result in their execution. If though, such burglary could be carried out, it would be quite a coup for those in the know.

This is a good hook, one which the player of this character will need to use to bring his fellow players and their characters into the action. This is handled in the next scene in the Rat’s Nest tavern as the Player Character who went with Vigomia explains the situation and attempts to persuade his fellow thieves to investigate. The player is also helped with the first in a series of player handouts each of which represent his memories of the night before, dripping clues into his foggy memory as he and his fellow thieves investigate. Armed with a rumour or three, the scenario picks up with the Player Characters outside the walls of the forbidden temple that was the target of Vigomia and the Player Character the night before.

The forbidden temple consists of a tower, four storeys high, standing in narrow overgrown garden behind high walls. Consisting of eleven, quite detailed locations, the tower-temple is home to a forgotten cult which might be behind the rumours of abductions on the streets of Lankhmar recently and plenty of secrets as well as some nasty horrors. There is plenty of opportunity to explore and examine the rooms of the temple, plus combat against the aforementioned horrors and a little roleplaying too. With luck, the Player Characters will uncover why the servitors of this long-forgotten god—a vile deity in itself—have become active of late and what it is they are up to. Theirs is a plan to bury a stinger into the heart of Lankhmar, a plan which they are putting into action just as the Player Characters are exploring their tower-temple base! At this point, the Player Characters have a choice. Will they run away, let whatever plan the cultists have play out and the city suffer the consequences, and hope that no one finds out that they were in cultists’ base, discovered the plan, and did nothing about it? Or will they rush after the cultists in the hope that they can stop them before chaos is unleashed and maybe even come out of this looking like heroes?

Of course, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #5: Blasphemy & Larceny in Lankhmar is designed to be run as part of a Lankhmar-based campaign. There are notes though on dropping the adventure into another city and on running the scenario as a convention scenario, as as well as suggestions throughout the scenario on how to expand it for two to three Player Characters to four to six. Best of all, though, are the suggestions for when to run the scenario, using the omens of the date to add a little extra mechanical effect, and so reinforce the superstitious nature of the inhabitants of the City of the Black Toga. If the Player Characters succeed and survive, they may be in for a big reward, but if they fail, they may earn the enmity of the city authorities, hopefully only temporarily though...

Physically, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #5: Blasphemy & Larceny in Lankhmar is as decently presented as you would expect from Goodman Games. It is well written, the handouts are plain, and the cartography decent. The floorplans of the temple would work very well on a virtual tabletop with their secrets and numbers excised.

If there is an issue with Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #5: Blasphemy & Larceny in Lankhmar, it is that the Player Characters find themselves in another temple so soon after
Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #4: Violence for Votishal. In comparison to that scenario, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #5: Blasphemy & Larceny in Lankhmar is both shorter and more dynamic, more action-orientated, but the Judge will likely want to run something between the two. Overall, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #5: Blasphemy & Larceny in Lankhmar is a quick, grim, and nasty, but entertaining scenario that nicely mixes action and larceny.

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