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Friday 22 March 2024

Friday Fantasy: Masks of Lankhmar

Masks of Lankhmar is the first scenario written for Fritz Lieber’s Lankhmar setting published for use with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Indeed, the publisher, Goodman Games, released the scenario in 2015 before it published the actual Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set in 2017. Thus, it is written for use with the standard rules for Dungeon Crawl Classics rather than those given in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set. That said, the differences are relatively slight, and the Judge could easily run this scenario using the rules in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set. The scenario is designed for First Level Player Characters, who are dropped into the action en media res, and it can be played in a single session or so. It is designed as a ‘Meet’ scenario, one that throws a diverse bunch of characters together and as a consequence they decide to work together to perform a heist. In effect, Masks of Lankhmar is a starter scenario, one that can be used as the beginning adventure for a campaign set in the City of the Black Toga.

Masks of Lankhmar begins with the Player Characters in a cellar in the middle of a fight. This is not with each other, although they have all just discovered that they are in the cellar for the same reason. That is to break into the treasure vault of wealth caravan master, Igrik of the East, and steal a treasure known as the ‘Key of the Unwitnessed Sisterhood’, whilst Igrik of the East is holding a masque party to show off his acquisition. The fight is with members of the Slayers’ Brotherhood, hired to provide security, but once dispatched, the Player Characters have a moment to reflect and explain how they got there. This allows a moment of invention upon the part of the players before they decide to team up and continue the robbery together. This proceeds apace with the Player Characters facing a number of obstacles which are not too difficult to overcome before making their escape from the mansion of Igrik of the East. Between them and the exit though, are members of the Thieves’ Guild, which takes a dim view of freelancers like the Player Characters, especially if they are robbing the same place as the guild sanctioned thieves! Like the ways in which they got into the mansion of Igrik of the East, numerous options are suggested as to how they leave, each player being free to choose one or devise his own. Both of these are really fun montages of scenes as first their way in and then their out are played in the classic style of heist film.

What the Player Characters steal from Igrik of the East, ‘Key of the Unwitnessed Sisterhood’, is not so much a treasure, but a clue to an even bigger treasure. This is one of the Gilded Masks worn by the Unseen Sisters, the priestesses of the Mysteries of Djil. This cult absolved its worshippers of their sins with a single kiss in return for donations and as its coffers filled and it grew more popular, the jealousy of other temples in the city along with various nobles also grew, until a century ago, they banded together, convinced the city Overlord to outlaw the Mysteries of Djil, sacked its temples, and drove its priesthood from Lankhmar. The clue points to the Temple of Djil on the Plaza of Dark Delights, now the site of a slum tenement. There are options here for the Judge to run scenes where the Player Characters go to a scribe to get a translation and learn some more about their next target and then be accosted by one of Nehwon’s foremost wizards, Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, to obtain one of the Gilded Masks of Djil for him. These two scenes can be omitted if the Judge wants to run a shorter game or is running Masks of Lankhmar as a convention scenario, but for a campaign game, these scenes are almost obligatory. In both cases, they introduce NPCs which can play a role in the campaign again and again, the sage as a useful source of information that the Player Characters can consult, Sheelba of the Eyeless Face as a lurking patron…

The second part of Masks of Lankhmar takes place in the Plaza of Dark Delights and the Temple of Djil that spires above it. Here they run the gauntlet of the local gang and the downtrodden slum dwellers, before getting into the temple itself. This is quite small, consisting of just six locations, a mix of puzzles and traps rather than combat encounters. The latter will come when more members of the Thieves Guild turn up, having followed the Player Characters to the temple. The ending of Masks of Lankhmar very much depends on who has possession of the Gilded Masks of Djil—the Player Characters, the Thieves Guild, or they have escaped themselves. Yes, the Gilded Masks of Djil are sentient! Whomever they end up with, there will be a chase across the city, probably over its rooftops in true Lankhmar fashion.

Physically, Masks of Lankhmar is as well presented as you would expect a scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game to be. The artwork is decent and the maps excellent, but the text could have been better organised in places.

Masks of Lankhmar is a linear adventure, but it is a solidly plotted one, with the focus entirely on the Player Characters and their actions. However, outside of that plot, there is little room for the Player Characters to act beyond its confines, bar the entertaining moments when the players get to describe how their characters get in and out of the mansion of Igrik of the East. Part of that is due to when Masks of Lankhmar was published, before the release of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set, so there was little for the Judge to work with. Now that is not the case. Part of it is also due to its short length and part of it is due it beginning en media res, so a lot of the planning and interaction associated with a heist takes place off-camera, before the adventure proper starts.

Masks of Lankhmar is an entertaining and fast-paced and atmospheric introduction to the City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes. It would work well as a convention scenario and it would work well as a campaign starter that can be played in a single session or fleshed out using the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set.

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