Lost Treasures of Atlantis (2019)
Chainsaw (North Wind Adventures)
Levels 6 – 8
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The lack of proper S&S modules is an endemic complaint in some circles of the OSR, yours truly among them. For all the Howards and Liebers in Appendix N, the actual number of S&S modules is very slim (as a wise man once said, it can be counted on one hand). Every day I go online, wading through reams of OSR stuff, praying to Crom that amid all the Artpunk and vanilla, there is a module for me out there that brings the Sword and Sorcery and brings it hard. “Crom,” I say, “I do not often pray to you. I have not the tongue for it. But hear me now. Grant me an S&S module greater then ever before. And if not, then to hell with you!” Today my prayers have been answered. Chainsaw, presumably Fred Durst’s alter ego, brings the thunder with a fuckhueg 68-page 4 floor behemoth of a module and reminds us all what is best in life!
Like any gift from Crom Lost Treasures of Atlantis is double-edged. To love it one must overcome some pretty hefty presentations obstacles. It is not easy to absorb, the language used is baroque, statt blocks bloated, and some of the individual encounters could be sharper. Let this not dissuade the aficionado from checking out this tour de force.
The premise is very long, a little too convoluted and ties into some of the background lore of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea that I am not necessarily familiar with, but that I can sort of infer from my knowledge of the source material. In a bid to gain the knowledge of the ancient Hyperboreans, the Atlanteans constructed a reactor that harnesses the power of lightning. Some Atlanteans didn’t like that and decided to trick everyone into constructing the Reactor atop the resting place of Chulak, a Great Old One super crab monstrosity, and sabotaging the reactor so it would possibly wake him up. Over time the saboteurs grew to worship the Great Old One. Then a necromancer comes. Then the Mi-Go, who want to harness Chalak’s power to raise their own god. Then Crab-Men. Everything has a motivation. Some nearby Esquimaux fishers notice strange flashes and other weird shit. Enter the PCs.
There’s a few conventions of AS&Sh that make the text difficult to absorb or are just puzzling. The commitment to genre is nothing less then total so everyone has names like Tartok, Xol Thoon or Saghani. Every single name is accompanied by notes on how to pronounce it. Archaic language like ‘betwixt’ or ‘dextral’ is included in the technical writing, an irritant that persists throughout the adventure. Mood language is perfect in descriptive and TERRIBLE in technical writing. It is possible to combine the two but the onus should always be on brevity and ease of assimilation.
Statt blocks are repeated with each encounter, making it easy to find but padding out the text. You will find some notes on the properties of magical material which is then repeated in full whenever it appears, where a single note would have sufficed. Items and monsters are bolded, a small mercy that makes them relatively easy to find. Referencing is endemic, reaching almost pathological proportions, but does mean you will always be able to find the properties of a particular item, but since more then half the monsters in the adventure are included in the appendix, this generates a constant visual clutter of references.
This should not dissuade you from tackling this god-child of Expedition to The Barrier Peaks and the entire 1920s pulp fiction library. The adventure begins in the village of Kren-Fak. The purple prose is strong with this one.
VILLAGE LAYOUT and DEFENCES: Refer to the Kren-Fak Map on the inside front cover. From a distance, Kren-Fak resembles a cluster of earthen mounds nestled betwixt a rocky shoreline and a forest of spruces. Two cogs and several umiaks rock gently in the waves near the end of a long stone pier. Whale jawbones protrude upwards from the pier’s sides, forming a rib cage around its walkway; a ragged patchwork of seal hides covers the ribs, flapping in the cold wind.
The earthen mounds are actually igloos of rock and mud, decorated with bizarre geometric designs using chitinous debris from the sea; in winter years, these homes are mantled in snow and ice. The larger igloos are painted with elaborate seascapes depicting giant crabs devouring octopuses, whales, and sharks. Three dozen igloos are arranged around the largest. Upon this central igloo, the art shews crab-men swarming over the beached corpse of Xathoqqua and picking the flesh from his bones. The crab-kin trudge quietly and slowly through the muddy village, tending to their business, and smoke drifts up lazily from some of the igloos into the grey sky.
The prose has the right tone but this is too long. Text covers exingencies like seasonal appearances. Decoration should be described in general terms, the decoration of the head tipi belongs in the encounter WITH the tipi. It paints a pretty picture but it presents too much. The village proper is DENSE. Open a word doc. and make some notes about the myriad NPCs and their purpose. A cheatsheet would have been useful here.
That being said, the village is already very interesting and the S&S bursts from every pore. There’s a respectable rumor table (T/F as it should be) and the adventure already begins in Kren-Fak proper. There’s prisoners you can free, bizarre retainers you can hire (three roman soldiers fergodssake), evil sorcerers looking to shanghai you, a secret assassin, slavers to get in trouble with, drinking contests against mutilated Eskimaux bartenders to win (the drink is fermented Gull, yes you read that correctly), sub-quests to do and creepy village witches to sort of maybe befriend. It’s one hundred percent S&S, not a tiefling bard in sight and praise the gods. Atmosphere and interactivity 10/10 but fuck me it’s dense as…Crom’s Anvil?, almost mandating you to take extensive notes.
There’s another thing that I find interesting but difficult to handle. Some modules can feel like a self-contained nodule that can just be plunked anywhere without any trouble since all of its elements are spatially contained. Lost Treasures of Atlantis has regular elements that lead to places beyond those described in the adventure. The Elders will recommend you seek out the Crab-Picts for information. There’s a sorceress later on that will offer you 10.000 gp if you bring her back to her home town. Tartok will sail with her slave cargo to the lands of the Witch Queen of Yissorum if you are not careful etc. I think elements like these can help embed a given adventure into a surrounding area and give the appearance of a larger world but they must be used sparsely to prevent the GM from having to improvise an equivalent amount of material just to handle the Party’s deviations.
The ride to the island is across the seas of Hyperborea and again we see a certain indulgence in largely superfluous detail more of interest to academics then prospective GMs. I appreciate the thorough, scholarly approach that the adventure tries to take but do I really need to know that the Island is reached via the River Oceanos, a current that lies ‘betwixt the 18th and the 36th parallels‘? There is the obligatory Kraken random encounter as well as some zombies or sickly Giant Eagle (from the Reactor) as well as more exotic fare.
The clouds swirl into the shape of an old man’s bearded
face, which glowers at the party’s ship and then blows
fierce winds into its sails for hours, pushing it far off
course. (Add two days to travel time.)
The island/dungeon proper is a thing of vast intricacy. A massive point in its favor are the gorgeous and legible maps, all exits clearly marked with coordinates so the connection between different maps is clear. This is no luxury, as the complex proper has 4 levels, one of them underwater, and a myriad of exits and entrances in seaside caverns, secluded temples and cracks in giant metal silos. There’s a good sense of progression to reaching the island, then having to look around for a possible entrance then exploring the complex in a myriad of ways that is TEXTBOOK DnD.
Random encounters on the Island are more elaborate and are nicely balanced between hostile monstrosities, potential allies and even the odd magic item. Monster variety is very good while never straying into random territory. There’s a good roster of regular enemies, for lack of a better word factions; Crabmen, Death-ray wielding Mi-Go and their Oon servants, Glowing red jellyfish and radioactive eagles, which is interspersed with the odd unique encounter; a Black Crystal automaton of Shub-Niggurath, The Tornado of Souls, a two-headed chameleon. There’s plenty of opportunity for interaction. My only regret is that as far as faction play is concerned, it is fairly rudimentary. A few notes on what the Crabmen know would have probably helped.
Let me give some examples. There is an opportunity to gain the respect of the Crab-men by befriending a certain shaman but the end result is information and some loot and little more. The Mi-Go, as written, are always hostile. There’s a chance to capture a severely injured Mi-Go in room A-10 but there is not a hint on how something like that plays out. The bulk of the encounters will be you chopping into bits the things you encounter.
There’s also the good stuff. You find three imprisoned brains. One claims to be a sorcerer and promises 10.000 gp if you bring it to Khromarium. The other brain tells you that she sided with the crab-men and should be destroyed. Encounters are often like this, good, but existing to deliver or do a single thing.
Holy fuck the intricacy of this thing. When was the last time you could jump in an underground river and actually follow it down to a partially submerged level? What about a fully submerged level? 310 foot shafts. The adventure reminds me of Many Gates of The Gann in the sense that the environment is advanced and can be interacted with to the point where the adventure even provides a cheatsheet with all the reactor controls. You can wreck the place too, exactly what it should be like, primeval savages exploring the ruins of a hyper-technological civilization. Banality is avoided, technology is always mysterious, energy crystals, tubes of lightning, green rays etc. Great job.
Probably the best floor is the bottom, entirely submerged (there are plenty of items in on the island that allow you to operate underwater but they are CRUCICALLY not dumped in your lap at the earliest convenience, meaning this level will GRADUALLY become accessible). A trench filled to the brim with animate water tendrils. Gold glitters below. What do you do. Hydrothermal vents that can be avoided. Illusions and ruins of old Atlantean temples. The final confrontation with the Blind Crimson Crab guardians of Chalak is pretty fucking S&S, and there’s an appropriately vast reward, but as written there doesn’t really seem to be an explicit way of waking up Chalak (and definetely not a way of putting him back to sleep, maybe the Blade Khalizol but I doubt this) meaning his statts are mostly there to tease the GM. I think this element could have been used better.
Treasure is fine, myriad gemstones, idols, figurines and atlantean platinum, interspersed with lightning guns, weird liquid copper from distant Yuggoth, and wagonsfull of new and interesting magical items, very often provided with a S&S-esque drawback or curse to make magic feel dark and mysterious. Everything is harnessed to be both interesting as well as atmospheric. Good on you.
Lost Treasures of Atlantis is a module of herculean effort, vast size, admirable complexity but oddly straightforward. It is infused with plenty of mini-quests, tricks, allies to befriend as well as plenty of cool monsters. I feel its sheer scope means that individual encounters often could have been written a bit stronger (i.e. you end up meeting a lot of interesting shit and stabbing that shit to death) but overall the whole should combine into a suitably wondrous science fantasy adventure. By far its largest drawback is its dense and lengthy writing, which might be a deal breaker for some.
A small cog called Saturn’s Skald crashed on the jagged rocks here two weeks ago. Its ragged blue flag still bears the visible image of Saturn. The ship’s main deck appears broken and unsafe, but a hole in the port hull permits access to its holds.
Inside, broken timbers, barrels, and rigging float in knee-deep water, and the temperature eerily drops 20°F. Only one door remains intact; it has swollen shut and feels unnaturally cold. Behind this door lurks the ghost of the first mate, defending the ship even in death.
Ghost: UT 10; AL LE; SZ M; MV 30 (fly 50); DX 8; AC 0; HD 10
(hp 60); #A 1/1 (touch); D —; SV 12; ML 10; XP 1,900.
Special: Sight causes victims to flee for 2d6 rounds, unless
sorcery saves made. Immune to poison, paralysis, fear, and
cold. Harmed only by silver or magical weapons. Touch
causes victim to age 13 years unless death save made.
This room also contains three bloated, floating corpses and a half-submerged desk. The rotting bodies resemble a Hyperborean female (in robes), a Viking male (in chain mail), and a Pictish male (in leather armour), all of which are badly scorched. All three have had their skulls sliced open and their brains neatly removed.
The desk has two drawers. The sinistral drawer contains a journal writ in Old Norse runes. It reveals plans to drop “Shagorizan and Crotos” at Crystal Point and pick them up one week later. The author also notes that he does not trust Crotos and has seen him talking to something in the water late at night. A false bottom in the dextral drawer hides a small sack holding 12 rubies (500-gp value each), a cleric scroll (remove curse), and a soft leather pouch with 6 pills of healing (as the potion).
The top drawer of the desk contains a journal in Old Norse, revealing plans to drop “Shagorizan and Crotos” at Crystal point and pick them up one week later, with a note that Crotos cannot be trusted as he was seen talking to something in the water at night. A false bottom in the bottom drawer contains etc. etc. etc.
I’m not saying the above is perfect but the language is almost flowery which makes it atmospheric but a slog to get through and hard to parse quickly. There is good use of bolded cross-referencing to help you run this beast of a module properly. It’s DnD alright, good DnD, like your uncle used to make before he was arrested. Given the scope, effort, fine map, interactive environment, under-water fucking sub-level and total commitment to S&S flavor, I can in this rare occasion overlook its sometimes plodding length, pathological referencing, archaic verbiage, and straightforward nature of some of the encounters. I am stuck somewhere between a very high *** and a low ****, and I am inclined to give it **** for sheer effort, dedication and craftmanship. If you can overlook some minor blemishes, and if you are looking for something meaty that you will end up taking notes for and probably playing for 5-10 sessions, check it out by Crom!
Check it out here.
21 thoughts on “[Review] The Lost Treasures of Atlantis (AS&SH); Crom wept”
Aren’t flaws what make a thing beautiful and real?
That said: I would love to see more S&S too but I fear that its design is much less straightforward than your regular old tombdive. It requires actual effort & thought.
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You can have things that are too polished or adhere too closely to an established form without any personal touch so they feel sterile but I calculate that in. Flaws are things that can be excised on the eternal climb to greatness.
R.E. S&S I fear you might have a point. D&D has a lot of S&S DnA but to operationalize it into a full on S&S module requires finesse, a poet’s grace and a warrior’s heart. The untamed wilderness. The ruins of ancient, evil civilization. The lavish decadence of civilization. Sorcery as an evil, unnatural force. It’s not about thick chunks of lore, it’s sweeping brushstrokes, fevered combat, characters that leap off the page.
One might say that to bring the S&S out of D&D requires leaving some of D&D’s baggage behind. For instance, D&D combat is many things but seldom “fevered”: there are too many factors which the ‘skilled’ or ‘veteran’ player is accustomed to weigh, balance and consider, negotiating for the optimal outcome. As much as I detest chess clocks and the like in wargaming, that discipline does hone a certain pitch and tempo of play that might be called for in recovering the FEEL of the genre.
The good old 10secs to decide what you do or you lose a round seems a good idea. In this regard OSR games might suit you better, because of a dearth of special powers. I don’t think I use a clock but I will rush players if I feel there isn’t time. ‘There’s no time! You must decide now!’ It helps keep up the intensity.
I know Chainsaw. I’ve met in in person and hung out a handful of times when he was out visiting LA on business. He’s one of my favorite people. I haven’t read this adventure (because I’m a cheap bastard) but I have zero doubt that it’s of excellent quality and captures the blood- and booze-soaked feel of top-notch heavy metal swords & sorcery because Chainsaw LIVES that shit, man! (Or at least he did before his kid was born…)
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I know Trent. He is a cowardly fuck who abuses his sticky presence on the K&KA to control discussion there.
Chainsaw, if he is not a retard I don’t know what he is. What is the most recent term acceptable to virtue signallers like Trent in the soon to be defunct BLM-LGBT-Marxist nexus of third tier academics. If not retard then perhaps idiot? Chainsaw is an idiot then we can agree, this does not mean he is not a gentle soul, enthusiastic about AD&D.
What have we learned about the K&KA forum? There are several cowardly cancelling cunts who surround themselves with a small company of gentle idiots.
Thanks for the review, Prince. Super helpful! Really appreciate your time and effort. It’s been a few years since I wrote this module (my first effort) and I would definitely do a few things differently now, some of which you identified. As I work on my next module, I will keep your insights in mind. Thanks again!
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For a first effort it is spectacular. I admire your craftsmanship. Thank you for sending it to me. Consider me interested in your next effort!
Excellent review. It is a happy marriage of the best of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and pulp.
The beyond the ken of the PCs technology does feel wondrous, the opponents suitably alien. Bryce reviewed (and liked) this, and I commented there that I have this module and regard it highly. I will repeat a comment: a paragraph or two discussing what has happened in play would be welcome, it might help answer questions of how open certain factions are to an alliance, what would be their price; how has the encounter with Chalak played out?
Low four stars (on your scale) seems fair.
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Good suggestion, I will try to add some playtest commentary in an Appendix next time. Thanks!
This was quite a delight. I’ve just got the first book of the Atlan Saga and this reminds me of the premise. Related to that topic, what does make a good S&S game?
Unrelated, awesome that you got 3,696 on the Kickstarter! Hopefully that means the cat corpses that are filled with salt and ash will stop appearing in my neighborhood. As well as getting rid of the fat,bald man who materializes outside my house and whispers omens while mastuerbating. That could be Venger Satanis though….
I’d say low/evil magic, capable street level heroes (no one man against a hundred), sorcery as a corrosive force, probably not too many special abilities and equipment min-maxing. It’s very much a thing of mood.
Thank you r.e. the congratulations. The dead cats are an unfortunate side-effect we haven’t managed to fix, maybe with the 5000 stretch goal we can hire a thaumaturge to look into it. Venger astrally projecting himself and masturbating is an homage to Fritz Leiber’s the Knight and Knave of Swords and was included in the $100 Beyond The 10th Qliphoth Reward Tier.
I did an Interview at house Satanis btw:
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Venger Satanis does what he can – tentacles out!
Why they are not using IPA symbols to indicate proper pronunciation is beyond me. I’m not even sarcastic.
Great module, nonetheless!
No idea on the pronunciation standards. I did not participate in the layout, formatting or editing process.