Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Review: The Wizardarium of Calabraxis

A DCC RPG adventure by Claytonian JP! I recognise his name from various DCC-related corners of the internet, but I haven't seen anything from him before. I'm not even sure if The Wizardarium of Calabraxis is his first publication or not. It did get enough praise on the forums to pique my interest and make me buy it, but life intervened, and it took me a few months util I could finally sit down, and read it cover to cover. After a few pages I've felt an immediate regret for not doing this earlier, because the Wizardarium is one hell of an adventure!

Wizardarium is 18 pages long with front and back covers. The illustrations are light hearted and well done, often with funny captions that tell memorable events from the playtests. Flipping through its pages without reading anything the adventure already screams fun! The maps follow the DCC tradition, although they are less crowded. They lack scale, so the sizes are up to the Judge. I don't understand why the Judge's map had to be repeated a page later. It's unnecessary, its space could have been used for another illustration instead.

You will find no read-aloud textboxes and lengthy dull walls of text here. This is what you get when the author is not paid per word: zero bullshit, all useful information. Every room is described in a brief and straightforward manner, so it's up to the Judge how he presents them. The adventure is for all levels, which usually means the writer was either lazy to balance encounters, or the module isn't really about combat. In case of Wizardarium I dare to say it's both. Not giving a shit about balance shows that Calytonian knows DCC RPG very well. No need to sweat with maths, because the chaotic nature of the system will fuck it up anyhow.

The backstory appears lengthy at first glance, but in this case it's a venial sin, because the wizardarium is big and has a lot going on! The hook uses kidnapped children to lure the PCs to the ancient cave complex which belonged to the insane mage Calabraxis. The place already has a bad reputation, and the local peasants haven't even got a clue about what's really going on there!

The environment is non-linear and refreshingly interactive. The cave entrance is populated by apemen, who were psychically enhanced by a vibrating monolith. The monolith is the mining device of the ancient vorbian race who are awakening from their long slumber. It's also a nice tool to fuck up player characters or grant them psionic powers. And this is only the entry! Delving deeper the players will find all the crazy stuff left behind by the mad mage. Similar to the monolith most items can be tinkered with for various beneficent or harmful effects. There is a room with a projector that can turn people into hybrids if you make animal figures from plastic triangles and cast their shadow upon them. There are animatronic sage statues that can drop some hints, unless they go berserk when activated. There is a vault guardian who would love to get bound to another place because he's bored of his current task. I could go on about all the funky stuff the wizardarium has to offer, but if you require further examples about why this is a fascinating dungeon there's something wrong with you. There are some mundane traps too, like slides, narrow ledges, falling ceilings. The dungeon has 24 rooms, exits, tunnels described in one and a half pages. Remember what I've said about zero bullshit?

But what's a dungeon worth without memorable inhabitants? There are few predetermined encounters, most of them will be random. The PCs can meet their own time traveling shadows, visions of the time-shifted wizard, head-swapper bats, mongrelocks with random body parts and psychic powers, defrosted vorbians with hi-tech equipment that turns the user slowly into a vorbian, their mutant descendants, and of course the aforementioned advanced apes. Like the surroundings, they aren't all there to kill the players - some of them are downright friendly or indifferent! My favorites are the head-swapper bats, who decapitate people to get heads they can use to think and talk. They really like chit-chat and if they find someone clever they will try to get his head to replace the old one. Isn't that adorable?

Such extraordinary place must have extraordinary loot too! The players can get their dirty hands on a fob-watch which allows timetravel as observers. It's a cool way to explore the history of the wizardarium (which has its own section at the end of the addendum), but it's far from safe. Traveling to the future is dangerous: a fumble may revive defeated villains, age the travelers, or attract time hounds (of Tindalos), and eight-legged time lizards. It's also possible to obtain Baxter the Jolly Book-ax. He is a chatty book-axe hybrid who can use scrolls and spellbook pages to cast spells. He hates vermin and loves reading. He is also pretty senile. That's one magic item I would love to roleplay the hell out of!

The rest of the addendum has experimental psionics rules, some ideas about the vorbian monolith, the vault guardian, the vorbian agenda, delightful playtest memories, the writer's own appendix N for the adventure, and a list of 1d12 random mongrelocks that made me chuckle.

I love this adventure. It's full of juicy ideas I can't wait to use. It's also dirt cheap. Heck, even if you won't run Wizardarium you should still buy it for the wicked creatures and magic items within! I hope Claytonian releases a print version in the future, because I need this framed on my wall with a caption that says THE BEST THIRD PARTY DCC RPG ADVENTURE.

Tl;dr: The Wizardarium of Calabraxis offers a good amount of colorful and imaginative content for a ridiculously low price. You can buy it on DriveThruRPG.

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