|A Domain of Decay.|
The DCC RPG version of The Palace of Unquiet Repose is a 75 pages long book accompanied by a 14 page bonus adventure called The Screaming Caverns. The almost monochrome still-life of the cover stands in stark contrast with the violent ritual seen on The Red Prophet Rises, and the eerie black and white interior further reinforces that the days of high adventure and barbaric splendour are over - welcome to the Age of Dusk, a bleak era still suffering from past calamities!
While art is great at giving first impressions and setting the tone, it's purpose is to supplement the writing2. Prince nails it effortlessly. He focuses on the important set pieces of each scene, highlighting their defining features in a terse but pompous prose. Ominous features are left for the last, making them linger on. That's smart pacing, that's how you do effective foreshadowing. Once you absorbed the feel each of the bolded keywords gets its spotlight in a bullet point list. The art and the writing together create a powerful atmosphere unlike any other. The Palace feels like an oppressing, melancholic, and haunting relic of bygone, alien times. It is grandiose dark fantasy reminding me of the depressing world of Berserk, the melancholic journey of Dark Souls, the disturbing art of Giger, the droning songs of Celtic Frost3.
"The Glass Wastes were once the site of an empire, so horrible none dare remember it."
The Palace of Unquiet Repose doesn't waste much time with introduction and summary: it starts throwing useful stuff at you right away, including some damn good hooks (like horrific visions of antropophagy driving a character to the wasteland), juicy rumours (some of them are needless to say utter bullshit), and some random NPCs (most of them aren't right in the head). Besides being useful in kickstarting the adventure these also give a good picture about the status quo. Deep in the desert an earthquake revealed a ruin built by the race of Tzyan - an ancient people who not only hated the gods, but built weapons to kill them. A squad of Sial-Atun mercenaries deserters, a cult of Tzyan called the Nine, and various ne'er-do-wells are looking for the place.
The Palace is a week's travel on foot from the city, during which Dusk Stalkers will harrass the party. They are the cooler cousins of the owlbear - they have a paralyzing scream, they use smart tactics to stalk their prey, they wrap themselves in the skin of their victims, and are actually the descendants of degenerate humans. Their behaviour is smart and believable, and will force the players to think through how they camp if they want to both rest and survive.
"Eroded by the ages, the malevolent visage of some ancient prince gazes down imperiously from a monstrous body of ancient stone."
Once the party reaches the basin they can enter the mythic underworld either through a basalt sphinx [sic] or a fissure. The sphinx leads to a collection of chambers full of ancient traps, eerie murals hinting about the place's forgotten history, and some unusual treasure in form of gilded skeletons. The fissure is shorter, safer, but much more foreboding. Infiltrators are greeted by a camp of mutilated corpses and a Dusk Stalker impaled on a spear among a row of statues, whose mate will attack the moment someone starts tampering with a nearby treasure.
"Rising from a lake of shimmering quicksilver and misty vapors, back-lit by eerie witch-light, the Palace of Unquiet Repose stands monstrous vigil over a city of the dead."
The two entrances offer different kinds of horrors, but ultimately both lead to the Black Shore. A lake of mercury with a colossal statue of the sorcerer Uyu-Yadmogh emerging from it, wall full of miniature carvings depicting torture and perversion, an evil shrine where one can be baptized to protect himself from the upcoming horrors at a cost, a forest of petrified trees stalked by a glass concubine, the dispirited rearguard of the Sial-Atun mercenaries... The disheartening landscape already offers memorable encounters, and it's still just a prelude to the Palace, which awaits patiently in the background, behind the lake of mercury.
"Nothing can be heard in the city but silence."
|Even the walls have mouths.|
If the potential faction play wasn't enough, the Necropolis still has some tricks in its sleeves. Nomen est omen, the place is full of corpses, and is haunted by the Azarog, a nigh invincible and invisible creature that is limited in movement but can reanimate the dead to its heart's desire. The scenery also has some memorable objects to play with, but my favorite is probably the Vae Victis, where the still-alive severed head of a lesser god is held on display. When the gigantic face is questioned he keeps repeating creepy prophecies. When the shard from his forehead is removed he answers a question truthfully before perishing. The shard is a deiphage, a dagger that can wound the gods, but can also grow into the wielder's hand and slowly turn him into one of the undead.
"A baroque monstrosity hewn from basalt, obsidian and crimson marble, every square inch covered in reliefs and figurines, super-imposed over one-another as if capturing all possible facets of their nature."
There are several ways to enter the Palace. There is a hallway covered by gaping mouths, that drain your soul unless you have one of the pebbles from the Black Shore, or you threw enough people at it to deplete the trap. If the players manage to bypass the traps the Sial-Atun and the Nine will follow. There is a secret entrance in the Necropolis through an optical illusion revealed by meditating. And finally one can enter through the roof, but it's a difficult climb made harder by the tiles turning into gargoylesque guardians.
|How blood sausage is made.|
Intrepid players can also descend to the second level, where Uyu-Yadmogh, the Tzyanese prince who built this Palace can be found. He is more of an abominable object than a monster, a colossal fusion of the sorcerer and his minions. He is surprisingly firendly, willing to show his visitors what Judgement awaits them, and offers the secret of avoiding it for the head of the Sial-Atun and the Nine. If his offer is refused or someone tries to take The Tome of Iron and Glass from him he will go mad and start animating corpses and draining souls until he is destroyed - though only two objects can kill him permanently...
The module ends with almost as many appendices as the AD&D1e DMG. I will highlight four because they cover topics I want to dwell a bit more on.
Appendix A sums up the factions, a defining element of the Necropolis area. All three of them has character, iconic NPCs, and a goal which they actively seek to achieve. They are equally willing to ally themselves with the players or murder them to get what they want. Even the hippies when the Father gets in paranoid mood on his random table. Fuck, he is willing to destroy his own, who are willing to sacrifice themselves for him... Though they have less important roles in earlier and later parts of the adventure, the factions make the Palace and its environs come alive and provide memorable friends and foes.
Appendix B lists a bunch of magnificent magic items. One of my favourites is the Cask of Unknowing, which makes people forget about the bearer, but too much use will reduce the bearer's personality and turn him into a non-being. The Many-Angled Instrument of Ethereal Imprisonment is basically the trap from Ghostbusters. The Tome of Iron and Glass contains Nth level spells which require an hour of chanting and a DC 20 spellcasting check to mess up an entire area - except for the imperfect Transcending the Fetters of Mortality, which destroys the ritualist and blinds those around him. The book also contains two adventure hooks (or sneaky advertisement), foreshadowing what modules to expect from the Merciless Merchants in the future. While not as exciting as the magic items, even the mundane treasure is kept interesting, often by the sheer amount of it and the challenge its recovery poses.
|I loved you in Dark Souls!|
Appendix F is a topic near and dear to all DCC RPG fans: patrons! The Palace of Unquiet Repose introduces two of them with unique Invoke Patron results, patron taints, spellburns, and spells. The Tesseract Tree worshipped by the Necropolis hoboes is older than the gods. It can not only cease violence, but awaken animals to sentience, hand out Infinite Darts, and even alter reality. To form a pact one has to crucify himself on its branches. The Tree is only willing to have one pact at a time, so before nailing yourself to a tree you have to kill the Father. Uyu-Yadmogh on the other hand is not so picky, though his spells aren't as exciting either: they can sow discord, age creatures, and petrify. Invoke Patron can summon Azarog though, which is nice.
The Screaming Caverns is the cherry on the cake. This exclusive adventure is about slaying a Sial-Atramentar, a maimed servant of the fallen gods that can be only harmed in one specific way. The players will have to figure out that condition through rumours, oracles, or random luck. There is an unpleasant twist though once they enter the monster's lair: he has a friend too. One of them can resurrect the dead but with malfunctions and a hatred against all things they loved in life, the other can shape stone and entomb living creatures in it. The Screaming Caverns is a fun monster hunt that requires a lot of preparations and is very easy to fuck up because of false rumours or lack of information.
I left the layout for the last. While mostly it's clean and uses highlighting, bullet points, cross referencing effectively, it's far from perfect. The way NPCs are presented is confusing. There is an italic description first, followed by stat blocks, equipment, and details. The problem is there is no heading or title telling you that a new section begins, and whom it's about. Even a cheap trick, like putting the stat block first would have helped in differentiating the sections. My other issue is with charts. They are chunky and often flow into other pages. This is a frequent problem for charts with large chunks of texts, like random encounter tables containing stat blocks. They are also ineffective: the cells are full of unused whitespace, making me cringe. I recommend formatting tables so they fit in a single page, and rethinking how columns and rows are used to minimize wasted space.
The Palace of Unquiet Repose exceeded my expectations. It walks on the razor's edge, finely balancing between Negadungeons and Monty Haul. It's a horrible place that can destroy your precious characters, but it isn't unfair and offers unimaginable rewards for the risks you take. It is dark fantasy done right - there is no self-irony, no random bullshit for the sake of weirdness, just foreboding atmosphere delivered with unparalleled craftsmanship. Well done!
Rules system: DCC RPG, Labyrinth Lord,
Publisher: The Merciless Merchants
Publication date: 2021
Pages: 75 + 14
• DriveThruRPG (pdf, print on demand)
dark fantasy masterpiece.