Saturday, 23 June 2018

[Review] The Red Prophet Rises

AKA Bloody-Handed Buff Dudes Partying Hard.
The Red Prophet Rises is an adventure by Malrex and Prince of Nothing written for the For Gold & Glory retroclone (which means you can run it with AD&D as written). Truth to be told I have never heard of the former gentleman, but the latter is one of those reviewers who has a good grasp of why adventure modules suck, so if he gives his name to a product my expectations skyrocket. Criticising something is much easier than puttig your ideals into practice after all, so The Red Prophet Rises is a proving ground for the dutch reviewer.

The module's physical manifestation is 38 pages long saddle-stitched booklet churned out by the DriveThruRPG print on demand service. The front and back covers look kickass, and they foreshadow what you can expect within: sacrifice, murder, and lots of blood. The interior is black and white. The illustrations range from okay to good - nothing outstanding, but at least the book is devoid of half-assed artsy sketches that look like something done by a five year old with a crayon. There are two maps within, one showing a canyon, the other what's beneath. They are simple, functional, and a joy to look at with all the loops, branches, and large open areas on them. There are 43 keyed areas, so there is plenty to explore. Layout and writing is just as important as a well-made map though, and The Red Prophet Rises does a fine job in this regard. Every keyed area gets a short description with the most important details first, and then lists the rest with bullet points, also highlighting further items of importance with italic or bold fonts. There is no bullshit, no fillers, only the useful or fun information you need in a terse style. A+ in usability. I do have a gripe: the module does not credit its playtesters.

The first few pages are spent on notes, background, and some basic information about the adventure. The premise is short and straightforward. The barbaric People of the Bull have a new chieftain called Khazra, who lead them to an ancient obsidian slab that drinks blood, where he promises to open the Gateway to the Crimson Paradise. To accomplish their goal the People of the Bull begin "an unending rite of sacrifice, bloodsport and druginduced orgiastic revelry", which will slowly awaken the ancient evil slumbering under their feet, within the ruins of an ancient wizard's tower.

The module was originally built as an opportunity for paladins to find their special mount. We aren't talking about a mere stallion here: said mount is no other than Aeryon, Grandson to the King of Horses! Yeah, it's just fluff and fancy name, but it sounds cool and gives enough character to the mount with three words to make it more than the paladin's pokémon. The People of the Bull captured him, and use him as a beast of burden at the moment. If the party has no paladin all is not lost: there are raiders to slay, slaves to free, ruins to check out.

Besides rumors the DM also gets an introduction about the People of the Bull, a few rules about their hallucinogenic Crimson Tear, a guide about their tactics if the shit hits the fan, and a timetable. I don't like timetables much because they add more bookkeeping to my already huge amount of DMing tasks, but fortunately the one provided here isn't complicated, and offers some savage barbaric daily routines the players can either get involved in, or leave as cool spectacle that makes the place feel alive.

The first part of the adventure is Khazra's canyon, where the People of the Bull took camp. The place evokes a barbaric sword & sorcery theme effectively: it's a barren environment with violent savages, which can be summed up as Frazetta's Conan the Barbarian meeting the warriors of Khorne from Warhammer. Until their Gateway to the Crimson Paradise opens (at least that's what they believe) they spend their time having raids, bull runs among slaves, duels in the arena, ritual sacrifices, drunk revelries. Being thus occupied provides a good opportunity for the adventurers to get into the camp, but that doesn't mean there is no chance of getting caught. Besides the barbarians there are jaded slaves, a wereboar looking for his wife, a curious doppleganger, a bugbear archer, and the three champions: the treacherous gnoll Gorelaugh, the blinded basilisk Drak, and the mighty centaur Velan. My favorite though is the head-shaman Luvag, who conspires against Khazra. Even if the players ignore him he has a chance to get Khazra assassinated, or start a civil war that ends with him dueling with the chieftain on the large obsidian slab in the middle of the camp. All in all the camp not only offers an excellent sword & sorcery feel, but it's full of moving parts that turn it into a dynamic, living setting.

The second part is the Tower Basement, a surprising departure from the original premise. It is a dungeon crawl within the ruins of an ancient tower, where things went south and is now haunted by the ghosts of the past. It is by no way boring or unimaginative though! There is an imprisoned demon who offers the party to burn down a settlement of their choice when freed, the ghosts of the guests who didn't realize they are dead, the ghost of a scribe who keeps copying scrolls until someone tells him to rest, skeleton janitors that can be controlled with the proper commands, a huge ass obsidian serpent searching food, and so on. The most interesting encounter for me is the Keeper of Names, an entity that looks like a protoss archon and slowly gains control over player characters by revealing their true names. Those who didn't say "fuck this shit, I'm out" after all of these can find the obsidian cavern with blood-drinking obelisk, and the hammer Starfall that can destroy it. The obelisk of course won't let himself get smashed to pieces easily: it sends visions of the void, obsidian skeletons, and finally the obsidian lord on the offenders to stop them. A well written dungeon after all, but it's past the zenith of the adventure, and feels more like a bonus sidetrek than a climax.

All that's left are the appendices. The first one is about new spells - mostly related to blood. Cool stuff, but the quickening was a bit disappointing, because it didn't involve decapitating people and draining their power with lightning zigzagging all over the place. The second details the new monsters the module offers. The third offers more than a dozen magic items, some of which you should totally steal for campaign even if you don't run the adventure. Who doesn't want a chameleon statue that tastes potions and tells its properties by changing his colors, or a gauntlet that reveals the name and dark secrets of the people you point at with it? The fourth details the rest of the NPCs and monsters of the module, and the fifth is a cheat sheet for their stat blocks grouped by areas.

The Red Prophet Rises is an exemplary product that should have a place on your shelves. It's a brilliant example of when the authors understand the topic they are working it. Instead of delivering a pretentious gory spectacle they managed to capture the essence of Howardian hard fantasy and do it justice. This adventure begs to be used. Interestingly if I will ever run this piece it's going to be under ZWEIHÄNDER or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay - because Blood for the Blood God!

Tl;dr: The Red Prophet Rises is a brutally good sword & sorcery adventure, and should be the gold standard in presentation that all OSR modules should follow. You can buy it HERE.

4 comments:

  1. You may be pleased to know that Prince of Nothing is working on a Zweihander conversion for this for the Grim & Perilous Library. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Having to do less preparation is always welcome.

      Delete
  2. Thank you very much for your time and effort for the review. I always appreciate feedback, good or bad. We both had such a great time writing this together...makes me want to go back and save the emails of our back-and-forth creative explosions and laughter when putting this together. I dare say working with Prince on this adventure was more fun than actually playing and we plan to team up again soon.
    --Malrex
    P.S. I chuckled a bit about your statement of the Quickening spell...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad to hear all of this. Keep up the good work!

      Delete