Monday 4 July 2016

Review: Appendix N Adventures #2: The Vile Worm

The Vile Worm is the second adventure in Brave Halfling Publishing's Appendix N Adventures line. The first module was pretty disappointing and required some serious overhaul to make it interesting. Is this any better?

I'm one of those few souls who own a print version of this module too. It's a neat little saddle-stitched booklet. The illustrations are a bit weaker this time, and the cover is downright ugly. The map looks great, but it will ruin your hopes if you thought this will be a good one shot for Saturday night, because this dungeon has a very small number of rooms. The Vile Worm is not a fully fledged adventure. It is more of a sidetrek, a filler to put in an empty sandbox hex.

The highlights claim this is a dungeon crawl for 8 to 12 1st level characters. That's quite a lot for such a small place. The highlights also note this is a linear rescue mission. That's a very poor start, for two reasons. First, I hate linear adventures. Second, rescue missions need NPCs the PCs find worth rescuing - either because of the NPC itself, or the reward. The worst you can have is assuming the party is made of Goody Two-shoeses who can't wait to rescue random villagers never met before. You will later see this is exactly what we get.

The background is only half page long, and far cooler than The Ruins of Ramat's. It's a good setup for a gritty medieval lovecraftian tale: after finding the sacrifical tree for a worm god a crazed berserker becomes its priest and starts kidnapping people to sacrifice. Wicked! The next page introduces said hermit and his lynx and wolf companions. He's an adorable dark twist on druids, I like it a lot. With some build up he could turn into a memorable villain!

The next section is about how to begin the adventure. I thought The Ruins of Ramat was bad with the hook, but The Vile Worm surpasses even that! The writer basically tells you to invent your own hook, like that party getting lost in the forest, or maybe looking for a chaotic outpost. That's all. That's lazy. Come on, I paid for your creativity, to do the dirty work instead of me, to inspire me. Is this really the best you can do?

Okay, the party is in the forest, deal with it. They meet the hermit who will manipulate them to follow him to his oak. If they follow he will lead them to an ambush. What if the adventurers don't follow? The Judge shouldn't force the party, says the writer, he should just let them wander a bit until they run into the oak and the ambush. The irony is strong with this one. Also, good job at throwing away an interesting villain right at the start of the adventure!

The oak is the ancient hollow tree where the hermit lives and sacrifices folks. There is some boring treasure hidden around it, plus an obvious secret door to the prisons. Despite their two-three sentence long descriptions most of the cells are empty, except for the one where two peasants are kept, and the secret room with the bell that calls the worm. No mention of the 65 feet deep hole that leads down to the caverns. One of the prisoners will ask the party to recover their fater who was dragged away by a many tentacled monster. Down below careless adventurers can fall int a shaft with paralyzing mucus, find bodies impregnated with worm eggs, face worm hatchlings, loot a treasure hoard, and of course battle the worm itself. The encounters are passable: there are new hatchlings continuously bursting out from corpses, paralyzing goo all over the place, and while the Vile Worm is just a glorified carrion crawler, it is presented as a sneaky bastard who likes hanging out on the ceiling.

The adventure doesn't end after saving the shephard. The oak will try to murder the party, which isn't as scary as it seems, especially with 8-12 level 1 characters. While he can deal a decent amount of damage and can charm party members, his hp is ridiculously low for a 20x25 feet large tree. Within a round the party will make firewood from poor monster. Once its chopped down the peasants will give shelter, food to the adventurers. Hopefully they didn't forget to heal the shepherd, otherwise they will witness the chestburster sceen from Alien, which sounds an amusingly anticlimactic way to ruin the dinner. There are two more paragraphs with further ideas about what's under the worm caves, but they are weak and uninspiring.

The loot is boring as hell. Coins, jewelry, gems... There is no meaningful reward, there aren't even consumable magic items. Since magic item shops don't fit into DCC RPG's mentality, you likely can't even buy potions on your money. The whole adventure is just a waste of resources.

The Vile Worm is a lot like those modules hastily threwn together on the day before the session because you forgot to prepare during the rest of the week. There's no shame in that, I do that quite often, but at least I make it sure they aren't railroady, have at least one exciting encounter, reward the players with some juicy loot, last longer than two hours, and I don't publish them either. This module reminds me of a Dire Straits song.

Tl;dr: The Vile Worm is a waste of a cool idea on a short and linear sidetrek that lacks challenge and originality. You can buy it on DriveThruRPG.

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