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Friday 19 April 2024

Friday Fantasy: Grave Matters

Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar
#9: Grave Matters
is a scenario for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and the ninth 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 #9: Grave Matters, 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!

Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #9: Grave Matters is a short, one or two session scenario which takes place over the course of a single evening. Designed for two or three Player Characters of Second Level, it opens with them being approached by Faukel, an elderly, though still tough warrior and ex-member of the Slayer’s Guild. He has a job for them which requires both their skills and their discretion. Something belonging to his employer—a respected figure in the more shadowy parts of the city—has been stolen and he wants the Player Characters to recover it. Which for experienced burglars like the Player Characters sounds easy enough, but unsurprisingly, there are complications. First, there is a deadline. The stolen item is due to be smuggled out of the city in the next two days and is currently in the possession of the smugglers. Second, Faukel’s employer wants it done without resorting to killing anyone and offers to pay the Player Characters a bonus if they manage that. Third, there is the nature of the item that Faukel’s employer wants recoveredit is a sarcophagus. So quite a hefty item, and yes, it does have a body still in it! Fourth, the smugglers, the ‘Grave Men’, who were the ones to hire the thieves who stole the sarcophagus, are connected to the Thieves’ Guild. The latter is possibly the most dangerous aspect of accepting the task. The Thieves’ Guild does not take kindly to freelance thieves, those who do not operate according to its rules or pay their dues, more so if the freelance thieves either steal from or kill actual members of the Thieves’ Guild.

There is also a fifth difficulty. The ‘Grave Men’ are not fools and so they have set up precautions and alarms to prevent their base of operations being broken into by thieves. The Player Characters, as experienced thieves and second storey men, should be used to that, and act and plan accordingly. The base of operations is actually an embalming business, a useful façade that also provides the means to smuggle items out of the city—embalmed bodies have plenty of cavities. ‘Brevak’s Embalming and Funeral Arts’ is still a going concern and is a mapped out and described in no little detail across its several floors. In order to not attract attention, the Player Characters will primarily relying on stealth, but there are opportunities for a fight or two, as well as traps to disarm and locks to be picked as you would expect. The cover of the scenario actually depicts the embalming room, which is an entertainingly weird location to have a fight and it should definitely involve or more of the NPCs or Player Characters being pitched off the walkways in the room and into the stinking embalming vats. Then, when it comes to the getting the sarcophagus out of the embalmer’s building, the easiest method would be to use one of the business’ hearses—and perhaps, if that sets up a chase, with one hearse careering after another through the streets of Lankhmar, it would be a fitting way to end the scenario!

However, ‘Grave Matters’ is not the only scenario in Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #9: Grave Matters. There is a second scenario, ‘The Madhouse Meet’. Originally appearing in Dungeon Crawl Classics: Lankhmar – The Madhouse Meet/Mutant Crawl Classics: The Museum at the End of the Time, Goodman Games’ release for Free RPG Day in 2016, it is an introductory scenario for Dungeon Crawl Classics: Lankhmar, intended as a ‘Meet’ for First Level Player Characters. A Meet’ adventure begins with a situation in which the Player Characters find themselves all together despite never having met before, and forces them to work together to get out of the situation they find themselves in. ‘The Madhouse Meet’ does that with a classic story situation. In this case, it is in the same cell somewhere in the city of Lankhmar, manacled to the wall. The challenge for the Player Characters is to both get out of their predicament and discover is responsible, which the scenario lets them do. The first issue for the Player Characters once they are free is reequipping themselves, since all of their possessions have been taken. This includes weapons, so like the earlier ‘Grave Matters’, this is a scenario where the Player Characters to employ stealth rather than force of arms—mostly because they lack the arms to apply the force.

The dungeon beyond the cell where the Player Characters find themselves waking up is a relatively straightforward and quite small, but it is highly detailed and there is a lot here for the Player Characters to investigate and examine.  Where the scenario as presented originally in Dungeon Crawl Classics: Lankhmar – The Madhouse Meet/Mutant Crawl Classics: The Museum at the End of the Time, felt divorced from Lankhmar and could have been set anyway, here it feels more grounded and it gives the Player Characters, at the end of the scenario, the opportunity to go home to Lankhmar. It also provides the opportunity for the Player Characters to forge relationships and connections with each other, ready for the Judge to run more scenarios using the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set. Part of that is the weirdness of the encounters in the asylum where they had just been held in captivity, which lean into the sorcery of the swords & sorcery genre. For the Judge, there is an alternate ending. This sets up the primary antagonist as a recurring villain, who is weird and creepy himself, rather being killed at the end of this scenario.

‘The Madhouse Meet’ is a solid ‘Meet’ scenario, one which pushes the Player Characters to rely on their skills and abilities rather than their gear. So, this is testing affair, one which will probably take a session or two to play through. In comparison, ‘Grave Matters’ lets the Player Characters use their skills and abilities to the fullest, aided by their equipment, and get them to plan and execute a burglary just as they are expected to in Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set.

Physically, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #9: Grave Matters is well presented. Both artwork and cartography are good, although ‘Grave Matters’ looks very much more like a scenario for Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar than ‘The Madhouse Meet’.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #9: Grave Matters provides an alternative means to get the players and characters involved both with each other and in Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar with ‘The Madhouse Meet’ and a nicely done adventure which the Judge can run after the Player Characters have had an adventure or two. Overall, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #9: Grave Matters is a sold pair of scenarios for use with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set.

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