Tuesday, 2 January 2018

[Review] Sky ov Crimson Flame

Which metal album is this?
Let's start the new year with a review instead of bullshit resolutions! Owl Knight Publishing's Sky ov Crimson Flame popped up on my radar in 2016's September when its Kickstarter campaign launched. The premise was interesting, the adventure seemed mostly complete, and the author only asked for five bucks. After short hesitation thanks to flashbacks from a past disappointment I backed the project. The planned release was October, but as usual the stretch goals resulted in a serious feature creep which pushed it back to last Spring.

Sky ov Crimson Flame is 64 pages long, with color cover, black & white interior. The layout flawlessly mimics the official DCC line, but once you look at the illustrations you realize you are dealing with a wolf in sheep's clothing: instead of the gonzo sword & sorcery of DCC RPG you are staring at some weird fucked up horror fitting of a Lamentations of the Flame Princess product. There might be no dongs and vaginas, but get ready for some flayed men, intestines, and creepy freaks. The art was done by Jordyn Boci, Nicolò Maioli, and Stefan Poag.

The first half of the module covers the titular adventure, a character funnel for 16-20 level 0 characters. The village sweetheart Balena goes missing, people start disappearing, and the Horned Moon rises on the night sky, which is a bad omen. Folk tales point toward the nearby abandoned castle of the long lost necromancer Balrothhariid as the source of every woe. To make players even more motivated, one of their PCs finds a love letter from the girl. Does one need more reason to storm a hellish dungeon?

Probably my favorite creature from the module.
Within the crumbling castle are twenty-something rooms awaiting for the foolhardy visitors. The ruin offers a good mix of combat, exploration, interactive elements, and loot alike. Our heroes will face flying heads, a huge butcher who loves flaying his victims, a mass of baby heads and limbs, and even the animated flesh Balrothhariid flayed off from himself. Monsters aren't the only threat though: there are plenty of opportunities to fall to death, and activating the soul chamber can desintegrate careless people. The castle is also the resting place of the legendary King Roulreed, and his magical sword Silvallum. That's not the only interesting loot though: the library holds some fun random magic items, like a potion that hulks out the user for a few round, or a lamp fueled by a farting imp that might escape. The most memorable for me weren't these though, but the history of the castle, and the all the foreshadowing that slowly reveals what's going on, and sets the mood for the final encounter.

The final confrontation takes place at the top of the highest tower, where the survivors will find the now flayed Balesa in company of some impaled corpses and a pool of blood. The girl was corrupted by the dagger forged from Balrothhariid's soul, and is about to finish a ritual to become the necromancer's next incarnation. The PCs have six rounds to stop her, and the author offers several ways to do that. No matter how they succeed, the ending will be bleak. On the other hand, if they fail, the ending will be still dark, but they will also have a kickass psychedelic planar battle full of random effects against Balrothhariid. It is a tough battle, but it's a million times more exciting than the normal conclusion.

The adventure ends with the new Splinter Soul spell (with effects ranging from Personality loss to total domination), the Nexus Disturbance Table needed for the post-ultimate battle, a bunch of handouts, a character sheet, and of course maps. The dungeon map is isometric, and much simpler than those in the official DCC RPG product. It might be not as jaw-dropping, but at least it isn't too crammed either.

The second half is the Blight ov the Eastern Forest mini-campaign, a small sandbox region with a hex map, and several adventure sites. Unfortunately it has a few glaring issues. First, while the village of Reed is on the map it lacks any kind of detail. Good sandboxes need a central hub where the party can recuperate, gather information, interact with locals, and spend its hard earned money. Omitting information on the hub is a huge mistake, even if it's just a small village. A few pages would have been enough to help the Judge, but now it's extra work he has to do. Second, the village is in the southeast corner of the map. It's better to have the hub at the center, so no matter where the PCs go you have something, and can expand later as they advance further. Now you will either do some more work in advance to cover some of the southern and eastern areas, or put there some walls like mountains, or do the cheapest lamest thing by asking your players not to venture there.

The points of interest include lairs and small dungeons alike. They aren't all independent pockets within the wilderness: some of them are connected to each other or Sky ov Crimson Flame through history, the sword, or the dagger.

Lair of the Yss'sak hides a wounded monster who tries to trick the party into getting him the silver medallion that restores him to full power. He is afraid of the Silvallum, which can destroy his medallion, but will also lose its power when doing so. Overall this is a cool encounter with a memorable villain, although nerfing the sword after destroying the medallion is a dick move.
A deal with the devil.

Hellspring Hollow is an area corrupted by the blood pouring from a Chaos Lord's still beating heart. The adventurers will have to wade through a forest of flesh-eating trees, a river of blood, and a whirlpool until they find the ribcage holding the heart, and its octopid guardians. It's theme makes the mini-dungeon a bit dull (blood, blood, and more blood), and it also lacks any kind of reward.

Domain of the Coo'ng is a monster lair, and as linear as a tower can be. While the creature has an intriguing origin it's unlikely the players will learn of it or it will have any importance, unless the Judge introduces a way to reveal it.

Jhumbii-Beyr Glen is an area corrupted by a sweet alien slime that turns creatures into gelatinous freaks - most of them are bears who can bounce around. If someone didn't get the reference, it's basically the Gummi Bears meets Giger. It's fun mini-dungeon, though there are too many things that can mess up the PCs permanently.

Sanctuary of the Sightless Sisters was founded by the Margaret, King Roulreed's blind sister, who was exiled to stop gossips about their incestuous relationship. The sanctuary was known for its blinded sisters who took care of the sick and wounded, until it was attacked by the Three Warlock Brothers (who defeated King Roulreed too). This is a small dungeon, but it packs a lot of punch for its size, for it has cool encounters, traps, secrets, and even meaningful treasure. What's better, the characters can make a great sacrifice by ritually gouging out their own eyes to redeem the place, which in turn rewards them with great power!

The Wrook's Hut is home to a strange creature that takes tolls from tresspassers, or their souls if they can't pay. Furthermore, he can controls crows which will try to murder intruders. What really makes this lair interesting is that the Wrook is a random encounter in the forest, and if he has taken any treasure or souls from the party they can be recovered here.

Even the fairies are horrible in the Eastern Forest.
The book ends with the random encounter table and the monster stats. Besides the above mentioned fiends this chapter offers corrupted revenant knights who seek the Silvallum's bearer, undead rabbits shooting strands of hair, baby-headed spider freaks shooting their bowels from their asses, and diseased pig fairies flying with gossamer wings, et al. If you didn't think the adventure was messed up enough already, well here you are!

Sky ov Crimson Flame is a product I find hard to judge. The first half is an excellent funnel that reminds me of Sailors on the Starless Sea in many ways. I can wholeheartedly recommend it, even if you don't want to use it as a funnel. The second half is a half-done sandbox. It's a mixed bag of some really good, and mediocre content. The Judge will have to do put some effort into it to make it work, especially if he wants to make those locations that only offer risk, but no reward of note less frustrating for the players. I can also understand if someone won't pick it up because its outrageous parts, which are sometimes clever and creative, but often feel fucked up just for the sake of fuckedupness. Still, there is a strong imagination at work here, accompanied by solid writing, and good product quality.

Tl;dr: A great character funnel accompanied by an incomplete sandbox, written for DCC RPG, but with heavy LotFP vibe. You can buy it HERE.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your assessment. The funnel is excellent, the mini-campaign has some interesting nuggets buried here and there, and has nowhere near the cohesiveness of the main adventure. Still, there's stuff in it that I can use, so no complaints for my gaming dollar on this product!

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