PrinceofNothingReviews: The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children (Lotfp); Peak Raggi

Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children is Raggi’s most recent adventure and it therefore follows that it is the wackiest, given Loftp’s shift from Grim-dickish traditional Dnd with Weird Elements to Grimly Serious 17th century Weird-Horror to Silly wackiness and absurdity against a backdrop of Grimly Serious 17th century weird-horror. Enter Doom-Cave of the Crystal Children, sillier then Fuck for Satan yet not a deliberate farce. On the plus side, it is a better adventure. No level recommendations but 2-3 is probably a pretty good starting off point.

We open with an author’s foreword wherein he outlines once again in excessive detail the exact mental pathologies that have spurred him into writing this decidedly strange and wacky adventure about the murder of crystal-headed children and the exploration of a strange alien laboratory. A comparison with Expedition to the Barrier Peaks may of course be made but beyond a conceptual resemblence (ignorant primitives explore a place of futuristic technology) there is little similarity between the two. Let us get down to buisness.

Doom-Cave is a dungeon, a weird fucking dungeon, centered around the titular Crystal-headed children. In a nearby town, all 100 middle aged townswomen claim to have lost their 4-year old son by the name of Andrew and the townspeople, who do not remember these missing 100 identical children, promise the characters a donkey laden with supplies if they do anything about it (involving the authorities in the 17th century generally means a visit from that most quixotic of King Philip’s organizations that no one expects, or at the very least a visit from a group of drunken Swiss mercenaries that have not been paid in 4 weeks). They are in luck, a shepherd has seen a child fitting the description of the missing sons wandering around a nearby cave. The game is afoot!

The cave and its strange, non-euclidean labyrinth is actually an alien genetics research facility! In an interesting reversal of traditional design philosophy, the villain and the children are encountered immediately and are by no means immediately hostile. The villain is Wiki Dot Pod, a former priest and dabbler in black magic, who has been driven mad by contact with the alien machinery and now seeks to take over the world with his army of crystal-headed children, which he generates by fucking the crystalline machinery (he is not very smart). In a nice twist, he is neither immediately hostile nor cruel and malevolent, he just wants world domination though he will kill to defend his children or the crystalline machine.

The titular crystal-headed children will probably be the main-antagonist in the adventure, provided the players intend to stop the lunatic wizard from taking over the world. The crystal headed children are 100 in number and slow enough (60 MV) so that a running battle in the maze-like environment of the caverns becomes feasible. In an interesting twist ah la THE ONE starring Jet Li, the children actually increase in strength as their numbers diminish, until the last few are creatures of truly fearsome ability. Also they look like cute 4 year olds and there are 50 sp worth of crystals growing from their faces. Let the child-slaughtering begin!

Silly premise and sillier execution aside, Doom-cave has many elements of an excessively deadly fun-house dungeon, with its plethora of buttons with random effects (some of them quite drastic and permanent), geometry altering random-effects and funky artifacts. It does not reach the levels of arbitrary tournament nonsense of White Plume Mountain, but manages to retain some coherence throughout. When it wants to be, it Doom-cave can even be pretty awesome. Bizarre glowing cloud rooms, a crystal containing a 8th century Franc warrior, an energy jellyfish that answers one question and destroys the player who gives the least worthy answer, a hologram of Jesus Christ that bleeds fish and wine etc. etc. A handfull of nice unique monsters too. Deformed and insane crystal headed children with bizarre mutations, the bizarre Glue Man and a freakish two-tailed dragon thing.

Deadliness needs to be adressed since this is a Raggi Adventure and one needs to know these things before getting into it. Doom-Cave is very deadly and insanely arbitrary because of the many random effects that can be triggered. The main challenge, the children themselves, can probably be handled intelligently by a skillfull party, but the variety of random effects that can be triggered can result in death or in one rare instance, invasion by an advanced alien civilisation and the destruction of the entire planet! There are multiple ways to kill not just yourself but everyone in the dungeon. Some of the effects only make sense for a campaign adventure but the many random effects and the Crystal Chamber itself can easily derail any carefully and artfully sculpted campaign world, so prospective GM’s be warned.

The loot is a bit dissapointing. The crystals may be carefully pried from the skulls of the vanquished children and sold off for 50 sp a head and the odd crystalline treasure may similarly be pawned off or used to fill a labratory.

Doom-cave is a bit of an odd duck. It is very silly and too random for my tastes but there is a certain element of creativity and thoroughness to the whole thing that I admire where I merely loathe Fuck for Satan. The crystalline device that generates the children has fully detailed rules on its operation and can easily be utilized by the PCs if they so desire. It would be easy to dismiss this adventure as random silly nonsense. Instead it is best dismissed as random, silly, unusually thought out and occasionally very clever nonsense.

I’m going to go out on a limb here. This is a fun adventure IF and only IF your players don’t mind the silly sci-fi elements, admittedly gruesome alien child murdering, arbitary and high lethality and occasionally dickish traps. If they are okay with that and have a sense of fun I think Doom-Cave should serve them well. In addition, I think the many random effects of Doom-Cave make it suitable for the odd replay, at least to see what wacky results you get this time.

Pros: Interesting elements. Fun, weird sci-fi shit to discover. Actually has a sense of fun.

Cons: Very deadly and arbitrary. Many random effects means a lot of content will probably be missed and left lying on the cutting room floor. Bizarre and disruptive.

Bottom Line: This one is hard. Doom-cave has some fun elements but some bad dicerolls can easily turn it into a slaughter-house. There is a sense of fun, creativity and energy to Doom-Cave that is rather infectious even if it is at times ridiculous. I think this would be a fun one-shot with the right crowd, at the very least. If you put it in your campaign you might get a party wipe or your planet might get destroyed, just sayin.’
Fuck it, Doom-Cave gets a pass for being filled to the brim with deadly wackyness. The increasing strength of the Children ramps up the tension and prevents their slaughter from descending into a stale hack-fest.  For all the faults that may be levelled against it, one thing Doom-Cave is unlikely to be is boring.
Final Verdict: 7 out of 10. Silly fun.

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5 thoughts on “PrinceofNothingReviews: The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children (Lotfp); Peak Raggi

  1. Howdy again, I posted here once before to share my thoughts on the Grinding Gear adventure which was alright. Incidentally I’ve also run the last three adventures you’ve reviewed: Fuck for Satan, Tales of the Scarecrow, and the Doom Cave.

    Of those four adventures, Tales of the Scarecrow was far and away the most enjoyable (perhaps I’ll post on that review.) However, you may be surprised to hear that I rank Doom Cave as perhaps the worst adventure I’ve ever run – in comparison Fuck for Satan is very nearly a good time. I consider Doom Cave so incredibly awful that rather than be annoyed to have wasted my time I’m actually glad I ran it as a way to learn how not to run a game.

    The Doom Cave itself is fairly interesting, but the dungeon complex beyond is a completely unnecessary and unenjoyable death trap. There’s no reason to go down there – everything necessary for resolving the players’ mission can be learned in the cave. The dungeon itself is a pinnacle of what for me is bad design:

    – Utterly random events explicitly written to prevent the players from figuring them out
    – Virtually all outcomes are negative, and no rewards for venturing down there
    – Empty corridors to no particular end (are there really groups that enjoy mapping this?)
    – No interesting combats (were there any combats? I forget),
    – The only remotely memorable encounter is an agonizingly awkward social encounter where the players must beg for their lives and the DM must tell that player to their face that their begging was awful, also you’re dead now.
    – Just not interesting

    I’ll leave off with a protip: if you decide to run this and really want to ensure Doom Cave is a memorable (horrifying) experience for your players, consider that an adventure where you murder a bunch of children is the ideal choice of game when one of your players is currently going through the agony of having had a miscarriage. I will not confirm or deny whether I ran this game for such a player (but if I did it was definitely not intentional.)

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    1. Hello and welcome back!

      [Dungeon complex]

      I figured the complex is to be fled into whilst the pursuit/pitched battle with the Crystal Headed Children takes place. The device can only be disabled from below, within the dungeon proper. Fighting the Crystal Headed children in the entrance seems foolhardy and probaby impossible.

      [rewards]

      You are mostly correct, but I figured that is offset by both A) a means to disable the machine and B) a means to fight/lose the Crystal Headed children. Pressing the random event buttons is almost always a net loss though.

      [Empty Corridors/Interesting]

      It ain’t that bad but tastes may differ. I thought it had some an oddly charming sort of spunk, not unlike a mentally challenged ballet dancer.

      [Encounters]

      I kind of loved that encounter. But what of the monsters trapped in stasis? The strange encounters in the corridors? The deformed Crystal headed children?

      [Miscarriage]

      A review on drivethru said something along those same lines.

      As always, thank you for sharing your insights and feedback.

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      1. [Dungeon complex]

        Hm? Now that you mention it, I can imagine a scenario where the players are tampering with the machine and Wiki sends his children down into the complex in order to stop them (leaving the players the opportunity to abuse the complex’s death traps as a means of defeating the children.) If that was Raggi’s intention, I missed it.

        [rewards]

        Plundering the machine’s crystals is certainly worth something (250sp each.) Although, my players have never quite shaken their bizarre inability to detect the value of anything that isn’t made of gold.

        Re-skimming the adventure, I only see two possibilities for defeating the children effectively – either (1) become the Crystal King via the big disc, or (2) remove the golden crystal and then load the machine up with your own genetic material. Both seem Sisyphean tasks. I’d be impressed by players coming up with that golden crystal solution even if they had a manual explaining the machine.

        [Empty corridors]

        I imagine an unmappable or difficult-to-map area might be interesting as a lone gimmick, but combined with everything else in Doom Cave it is just one more aspect contributing to a sense that all efforts are pointless. The whole of it seems designed to bore players until they give up and leave.

        [Miscarriage]

        This review? http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product_reviews_info.php?&reviews_id=136180&products_id=132808

        Ey, that’s my review. With my real name. I am bad at anonymity.

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      2. [Encounters]

        I’d expected that encounter to be enjoyable upon first reading, but it left a bad taste in practice. If touching the Hectangle at all had simply caused the character in question to drop dead on the spot, my players would begrudgingly have accepted it as a lesson learned (don’t touch weird stuff in this zany place, its dangerous!) Forcing the players to beg for their lives, at the expense of another player who is guaranteed to die, seem assured to engender antagonism within the group. In fact, Orwell put this better than I ever could:

        “Sometimes they threaten you with something – something you can’t stand up to, can’t even think about. And then you say, “Don’t do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to So-and-so.” And perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn’t mean it. But that isn’t true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there’s no other way of saving yourself, and you’re quite ready to save yourself that way. You WANT it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care is yourself.”
        ― George Orwell, 1984

        I’m inclined to say that this is the worst possible encounter one could ever put in any roleplaying game. It splits the party into individuals and places them at cross-purposes to one another.

        This is especially interesting if you compare it to a similar encounter from Tales of the Scarecrow where players must concoct horror stories about the scarecrow that are potentially very harmful to the party. Bboth I and my players enjoyed that encounter immensely, even accounting for everyone acknowledging that the encounter is a straightforward prisoner’s dilemma. If the players realize this, the solution is straightforward: invent mundane curses without lasting consequence. Groups that do so (and I expect most would) are strengthened when everyone chooses to co-operate.

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      3. [(final) Solutions]

        The machine actually seeing use seems very unlikely. What are the odds you have players that enjoy both the weird empire/building experimentation type of game and the silly dungeoncrawl?

        [random effects]

        Upon rereading the random buttons, the effects they tend to have can be grouped, so it should be possible for players to figure out what buttons can be good and what buttons can be bad. The inclusion of a mechanism that causes buttons to change colour is smart. For example, the Red button is almost always positive.

        The only downside is, of course, the Purple button, which gives you undetectable cancer with no saving throw that only takes effect months later. Harsh.

        The best way to deal with the Children seems to be the Bridge. Especially at earlier levels, the environmental factors are almost sure to kill scores of them.

        In addition, one could attempt to release the Glue Man and the Dragon-thing from the crystal room, since deactivating the crystalline storage requires one to be far away from the room in any case. Since both are hostile and Dot Pod is near the entrance, that would also have a chance of solving the scenario.

        [rewards]

        Don’t forget every surface that is described as Crystalline may be harvested for the purpose of a wizard’s laboratory (though this would be useless in one-shots)

        [Empty corridors]

        Aye, but I recall you having a similar problem with the mapping element of Grinding Gear.

        [Encounters]

        “Do it to Julia!”

        Any reference to George Orwell is okay in my book.

        Depends on your players I’d imagine. I know one of my groups (Carcosa!) that would absolutely love an encounter like that, but I have seen groups where that would backfire and leave everyone feeling butthurt. I am alright with the odd prisoner’s (or chicken, depending on the benefits and drawbacks) dilemma, provided it is presented as an exception, not a rule.

        I have had players that are capable of seamless co-operation after several sessions and players that are categorically incapable, even after swearing a plethora of oaths to the contrary, of properly gauging group moods and objectives. Both combine to generate interesting games and both are good.

        [Further rambling observation]

        I will grant you that I have decried and continue to decry certain games for encouraging players to hog the spotlight and focus on the PC’s goals and personality to the extent of everything else, including gameplay and teamwork. The tendency is remarkably common if not ruthlessly supressed. The character Neuremberg defence if you will.

        In the event of your character being predisposed to doing A) and A = no fun for everyone involved your character is wrong. Alter him.

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