[Review] The Chest (OSR 2e); Oldschool Charm

[Adventure] The Chest
Aaron Fairbook (The Merciless Merchants)
Any Level (est. 1-6)

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The original concept of the module as an adventure that may be freely slotted into any campaign world without taking up a great deal of time or cataclysmically impacting the campaign world in question is somewhat less common or even trendy in the days of the OSR. Many adventures either have built-in campaign settings (like Slumbering Ursine Dunes) or implied campaign settings with universe-wide implications (like DCO) making them hard to just throw into your game. A second problem is that even if you wanted to make a generic ‘ module’ it would end up as terribly boring vague, because even the consensus of what DnD is and what source-material is used for inspiration has been muddied by time. Befuddled by this etymological conundrum, I was therefore pleased to receive a copy of The Chest by Aaron Fairbrook, a simple adventure for Gold & Glory (2e retroclone) that can be slotted into any Dungeon (like DungeonLand or the Bottle City), doesn’t outstay its welcome and is overal a nice callback to the olden dungeoncrawlingdays of Greyhawk and Blackmoor. When backstory was a paragraph, encounter levels were vague and gold was xp.

The Chest is a rather charming 14 page adventure. The central premise is an enchanted chest, that one presumably finds in some other dungeon. The chest reveals a passage to a (presumably) extraplanar vault the greedy wizard used to hide his riches. Need I say more?

The Chest itself contains several rooms, each devoted to a different type of wealth; Copper, silver, gold, electrum, platinum and gemstones. Each room has guardians corresponding to the treasure that will prevent theft. Classic set-up. Fairbrook takes the trouble to come up with unique creatures (with unique abilities) for each room, for which he deserves credit. From giant rolling Platinum Coins, Electrum Coin scarabs whose bite changes men into metal statues (this happens after the second failed save, the first one merely slows, a good design decision) to Liquid-silver-terminator guardians and even a Gemstone Golem. The adventure remains firmly tied to DnD with the inclusion of a Gelatinous Cube and even a Golden Dragon in the gold vault (which may be negotiated with or plied for the solution to a riddle if it is beaten in a game of chance, another solid addition). The Golden dragon can teleport to other locations so there is a reason for it to be there! There is no fixed level since different vaults have different guardians and there is no reason why your players couldn’t take a welcome break from exploring Castle Deathgaol and instead take another stab at the platinum room.

What else do I discuss? One the vaults can only be opened by a riddle, but the riddle is too easy even if you don’t find any of the hints. A firebreathing Dragon door will only open for its owner (and will use fire to get rid of any trespassers), but the Magic Mouth extolling players to ask the Golden Dragon on how to open it should have been removed, it feels meta-gamey. Players can assert their ownership over the vault by leaving one unit of the appropriate treasure type in each vault, along with of drop of their blood. After that you can use it to store your wealth or even as a hiding place/fortress. Awesome.

The adventure is smart enough to realize the abuse your players will make of this formidable magical item and thus introduces a turd in the punchbowl. The Scalene. The Scalene are extraplanar monstrosities attracted by wealth and magic items and the chest represents a weak spot where they can breach through the walls of time and space. They look and are statted like 1e or Basic monsters (an inverted tetrahedron with multi-coloured tentacles that each has a different ability and an eye on each face). If your players are little shits about the chest, you can always port in a few more, as they are quite formidable.

Uh what else? Some of the rooms are made entirely of copper or silver and greedy players are given the option of chopping the raw ore out of the walls if they want to take several weeks doing so, which is always appreciated, though for some arbitrary bullshit reason the Gold Room is described as nearly covered in Gold with a gold river yet the players cannot mine it since it ‘dissapears if removed from the room.’ Thanks GM. Also an approving nod to the magic items, which are all unique. An enchanted morning star shaped like a sun that sheds light and deals double damage to the undead, a cursed gem that gives spellcasting power but gives any spell cast at the caster a 25% failure chance (as Wand of Wonder), Anklets that increase the weight of the wearer on command and a glove that summons a telepathically linked silver falcon. Seriously it is as though I am reading an old TSR module, warts and all.

If I can criticize anything else, the writing is weak at times (i.e “Ghalamudru has a corny humor, but a quick wit. “You can tell your gold chalice is ‘fake’ if you leave the room and it talks poorly of you”. He is very fond of playing games that involve strategy or of riddle solving (a few gaming pieces/board games are available for this purpose) and enjoys telling and listening to stories). The production value is not great either, but the map is perfectly legible and many of the new creatures have pretty decent art (about half the pages have art, excellent choice).
You could drop this in your Castle Greyhawk (er… I mean Zagyg) or Undermountain campaign and it would fit right in. By no means a brilliant module, but certainly well done. Recommended for anyone interested in 1e era dungeon stuff looking for a little extra to spice up his dungeons. Just improve the riddle next time.

Pros: Classic AD&D Feel. Unique monsters. Unique magical items. The odd riddle to spice things up a bit. The adventure includes a roleplaying component, secret doors and even a roleplaying opportunity with a dragon that doesn’t suck.

Cons: Writing can be a bit weak. Not recommended for Elfgames-is-serious-business-thespian-wankathon crowd. The riddle sucks balls.

Final Verdict: Party like its 1979! 7 out of 10.

This thing is what, 1.50$? I’ve seen shittier adventures for 10 bucks. Check it out at http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/227772/The-Chest?src=newest&coverSizeTestPhase2=true&word-variants=true

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3 thoughts on “[Review] The Chest (OSR 2e); Oldschool Charm

  1. First off, I REALLY appreciate your time and effort to review my adventure. Getting feedback is like gold to me so that I can improve. Seriously, thank you.
    But let’s get straight to the point. I suck ass at riddles. I know it, and now you know it and now whoever is reading this knows it. I’m that player who just rolls his eyes when I hear we have to solve a riddle because I know that I’m the weak link in that department and that I should just prepare to fight something or die because I know I’m not going to be able to solve it. I just have no patience for them and I’m not good at them. BUT I felt this adventure needed something like a riddle, and other players like riddles….and well, I like this riddle!….know why? Because it IS easy…haha, and I felt if I was playing I might actually be able to solve one for once. But, ya, I won’t argue your opinion at all about the riddle…it does suck, but I made it up myself and tried.
    What else—yes, I hesitated with the door and having it say talk to the Golden Lord to find out how to open it. I think I personally have had a few nights as DM when suddenly a half hour rolls by because the players keep banging their head against a wall trying to do something that’s just not going to work. Re-living those experiences, I think that’s why I inserted that bit in there, and I can see how that would feel meta-gamey. But these are just ‘tools’ and people can always use or not use what they wish.
    The gold room…ya, I’m a bastard. A better option—probably should have the dragon do something if his gold was being taken instead of the BS. Even the Chest itself made me super wary, which was the reason for the Scalenes. When things spiral out of control it can ruin a campaign, so I try to keep that in mind and be a little conservative at times.
    I can’t take credit for the morning star magic item—that was devised by one of my patrons…and yes, I’m going to go for it and yell out a shameless plug—hope you don’t mind. I’m busting similar adventures, one a month, just like this one, on my new Patreon—Malrex’s Modules for 1$ per creation. So if you want to save 50 cents, come check it out! I’d love to toss around ideas with patrons and make some cool dungeons/situations. I also am part of the team–The Merciless Merchants and our stuff is all on Drivethrurpg.
    Thanks again for the review and feedback!!

    Like

    1. [feedback]

      Hey no problem man, always happy to check out someone’s stuff.

      [Riddle]

      You can find thousands online if you need inspiration. As it stands I just thought it was too easy. I like riddles/puzzles myself but I appreciate getting the difficulty just right is a delicate balancing act. It can’t be so obscure so as to bring the game to a screeching halt and you had the right impulse by adding means of getting hints but a riddle that is too obvious feels like filler. The Electrum door alone provides a huge hint and the rhyme scheme would have made it easy even if it had been obscure.

      [Meta-gamey]

      If something is meant to be optional you ought to mention that. Including some sort of corrective mechanism in case your players do not get the hint or get stumped is a great idea, but if the hint is too meta-gamey or breaks versimilitude (i.e if it feels too easy and there is no reason the door would send you that way) then it takes players out of the game. It breaks immersion, and immersion is a powerful tool and factor in player enjoyment.

      [Gold room]

      The ” taking the gold out of the room” part was BS. It already has a gold dragon guarding it, any group of PCs that manages to snatch 15.000 worth of gold pieces from under the watchful eye of a gold dragon and its battalion of constructs deserves the cash.
      Wouldn’t dedicating yourself to the Chest give you ownership over the gold as written?

      The Scalenes are a great addition actually. They make the place feel perilous and provide the GM with a means of pulling the plug if GM abuse becomes too great.

      [Thanks]

      Not to worry Aaron, it was great to take a look at your work. Keep it up and don’t be a stranger!

      Like

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