[Review] Hyqueous Vaults (OSRIC); True Believers

Hyqueous Vaults (2017)

R. Dettman, J.Johnson, G. Fullerton, M.Riedel, A.T. Grohe Jr., A. Zisch (Knights & Knaves Alehouse)
Level 3

Knights and Knaves Alehouse is one of those oldschool forums where men fear to thread. The lords and ladies of those hallowed halls have kept their thrones for decades, and their archaic speech is laced with allusions to distant days, of gaming under other suns, and to them the likes of Barker, Arneson, Gygax are not half-remembered legend, but living history.

In the transition between that heroic age and the current sanitized, streamlined, corporate edition something great was lost, and anyone who has ever had the pleasure of playing both editions can tell immediately. Strategy has been replaced with tactics, ingenuity has been replaced with special abilities and feats, and the complex labyrinths full of wonder and horror are now have all the complexity of a single-player Street Fighter campaign. But despair not, for there are some who have kept the flame!

To celebrate the decade long reign of the creature known as OSRIC, an early retro-clone, a faithful re-creation, with much needed updates for legibility and ease of use, of the Great Tomes that E.G. Gygax penned in the dawn of the hobby, the Alehouse has gathered its mightiest poets, architects, strategists and grognards. Great brass horns were sounded and ancients stirred from their aeon-long sleep, uprooting the forests that had encrusted their titanic forms, to lumber dreamily and gather in conclave to forge for us a module to celebrate all that is great about AD&D.

In the OSR there are a lot of charlatans and pied pipers, false messiahs seeking to overthrow what has come before without ever understanding what made it good in the first place. HV is the opposite. HV is one-hundred percent, unadulterated, refined, no-bullshit AD&D, complete with the font and the format and lacking only the Erol Otus art. It reminds me of Beastmaker Mountain in that in reading it you feel your mind sink into a sort of flow-state and the each encounter integrates seamlessly into it yet it never feels generic. It is pure AD&D. New monsters, treasure and traps feel like a logical extrapolation of that flow-state and never stand out as jarring or confusing.

The premise is appropriately short, stated in clear and concise terms. A treasure-map leads to a Cliffside complex once used by an extinct society of hydromancers for research, worship and ritual disposal of the dead. Since then it has been infested by all manner of noxious inhabitants, from a troll merchant, to Eel-men to an elven necromancer. Enter the PCs.  

HV is much better then Beastmaker Mountain. Let us count the ways.

The map-making is among the best I have seen for a 60-ish room dungeon. Nodes of rooms are interconnected via a multitude of passageways. A waist-deep river leads past various docks and beaches of this subterrene complex and can be fully navigated. The way it starts off tells it all, a trail to a second entrance can be found in the bushes to the immediate west. Doors are wizard-locked, opened elsewhere or barred by special hazards. The underground river has appropriate underground hazards. And all of it designed so that the exploration of no single area is mandatory. There will always be alternate paths yet to follow. Marvelous. Only Lost Treasure of Atlantis puts it to shame.
Does anyone remember the tradition of putting the actual treasure Vault in a really difficult, cryptic, hard-to-find position, and then giving the PCs a hint so they KNOW to look for it? Peppridge Farm remembers.

The writing is on par with BM, if lengthier because of the greater complexity of the encounters. Key words are underlined for you to quickly grasp what information is essential. Even the most complex rooms never stretch beyond several paragraphs. Writing is clear and concise, easily grasped, functional like a roman gladius, yet evocative and fantastic, of AD&D but not in lazy pantomime.

Windy outside. Trail where creatures (of indeterminate type) have entered/exited the 15 ft high cave. Tracking reveals lion prints, plus areas where blood has darkened the dirt long ago. Smells of rot and mildew emanate from the east passage. Occasional metallic chiming noises come from the north passage.

Encounters are fantastical in a way that post-Gygax D&D gradually lost. As codified material increased innovation was no longer necessary and module writers all too easily grasped for the beaten path. Orthodoxy became king. HV has all the innovative zest of something like Tjocanth or Toamachan. Familiar encounters are distinct and memorable, and exist seamlessly alongside new threats and everything is doing something. Less worn entries of the Monstrous manual are trotted out (when was the last time you encountered a Pyrohydra in a level 3 module hmmmn?) and feel lived in and embedded in the space they inhabit. Inhabitants are, by and large, aware of eachother and attempt to turn the PCs to their own ends or trick them. Some of the encounters, like a necromancer lying in suspended animation in a glass sarcophagus and communicating via a magic mirror, are wild and rad in a way that D&D should be.

Traps are a dying art, and good trapmakers are hidden and fading in this fallen world. In Beastmaker, largely an afterthought, as turds in one’s sushi, traps in HV are used as OBSTACLES TO BE CIRCUMVENTED BY CLEVER PLAY OR STRATEGY. Enchanted hands that fire repelling rays down corridors, Whirlwinds of glittering light, accursed pearls in shrines to aquatic deities, the list goes on until even my great forge-bellow lungs wheeze and quiver under the strain of such epic recitation. There are no AHAHAHA FUCK YOU traps in HV. Purists might balk, I say good on you.

The weird and wondrous is emphasized. If I ever read another Dungeon Magazine adventure that states “this trap triggers a polymorph spell in combination which a hidden hatch and a blowfan that blows dust of choking and sneezing into the room’ I think I am going to have a seizure. There’s plenty of strange magical objects to interact with in HV. Odd spectral candles keep treasures (and sometimes monsters) locked in the ethereal plane, and finding the various Prime Rods meticulously scattered across the dungeon adds an extra dimension to the exploration, particularly since they play a role in opening the final treasure, the ominously titled Tenebrous Vault and its sinister contents.

There’s a plethora of new magical items alongside the familiar adventuring hardtack, and all of it short, evocative and properly MAGICAL. A self-propelled woven reed boat, a cloak that allows you to walk on water IF IT IS WORN BY TWO PEOPLE. Curses and ancient sorceries and re-activating the water wheel allows many of the protections in the complex to recharge. Interconnectivity and verisimilitude, that thing I praised Highly in Many Gates, is here in spades.

The magic in HV is great because it implies what I have always advocated, that the rules in the PhB and DmG are not comprehensive, notes on a map attempting to convey A MUCH DEEPER, COMPLEX MAGICAL REALITY that lies beneath it. Using only by the book items and spells makes D&D feel small and familiar. Magic, new, unknown magic, gives the impression that even the 5th level spells the players are dreaming about one day gassing a cavern of orcs with are but parlour tricks compared to the powers man and god could harness in bygone days.

Get it. It’s actually free, or the print version is at cost. I am adding this to a list. I am checking it twice. After B/X is over, I am going to do a full on, 1e, no bullshit greatest hits campaign, set in motherfucking greyhawk, with most of Gary Gygax’s modules thrown in there. I will include a few modules that ABSOLUTELY SCREAM that vibe of DnD that are not from official TSR sources. Many Gates of the Gann is one of them. This is another one.

Rating these things is always a bitch. I give it a very high ****, if only for the reason it occupies a niche similar to that of Many Gates of the Gann. It distills the dungeon-crawling practices of old DnD, uninhibited, undiluted, into a single concise practical example. In this it is inferior to MGotG, but by mere hairsbreadths. There is a transcendent level of interconnectivity and interactivity, the tasteful use of science fictional elements and the power of its premise that HV, for all its manifold virtues, does not QUITE achieve. Nevertheless, this is a very good module, and if you are AT ALL interested in the OSR, I highly recommend you check it out.

K&K seems to have gathered quite the pool of talented authors. A place to watch.


16 thoughts on “[Review] Hyqueous Vaults (OSRIC); True Believers

    1. Its a gut thing, the processes behind it remain obscure to me, but I’ve been known to give a few *****’s in my day. Classics like B2. B5 & B10, Tomb of Horrors, Many Gates of the Gann, Carcosa, Swordthrust, M-C&Princesses, BTAm. I think a ***** should either be a flawless, spectacular execution of the craft or something that is entirely new/massively influences the next generation of games to come. Gardens of Yinn I think still merits a ***** but that other pointcrawl that Emmy came up with I would give a ***.


  1. We must be psychically linked, man. I was just reading this module last night for use in the current beta of Worlds Without Number.


  2. This thing looks fun but pronouncing it is like throwing up in your mouth, only without the free and tasty snack. Still less pretentious than Palace of the Quiet Rapist though.


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