Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children (2014)
James Raggi IV (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Any Level (but estimated 2 – 4)
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 resemblance (ignorant primitives explore a place of futuristic technology) there is little similarity between the two. Let us get down to business.
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 handful 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 addressed 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 skillful 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 civilization 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 disappointing. 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 laboratory.
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, arbitrary 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 wackiness. 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 leveled against it, one thing Doom-Cave is unlikely to be is boring.
Final Verdict: 7 out of 10. Silly fun.