Wrack & Ruin (2010)
Jeff “Bighara” Sparks (Faster Monkey Games)
Lvl 4 – 6
Another blast from the second wave of the OSR. At a time when people sought to recreate and rediscover the magic of the old days. Sparks has a penchant for making vanilla modules with charming idiosyncratic elements and Wrack & Ruin is no exception. An underwater adventure that does not suck! as they say these days.
Wrack & Ruin is a 16-page adventure, best filed in the miscellaneous category. Instead of dungeon delving, hex crawling or infiltration, the characters are chartered by the wizard Meldime to find the missing shipment of stone golem parts (commissioned from the Dwarves!). It’s a salvaging operation in the truest sense of the word!
As is by now familiar, Sparks excels by a meticulous, thorough approach, combined with the charming low fantasy atmosphere that never gets tiresome. You arrive in the fishing village of Wrack to inquire as to the location of the shipment. Sparse details of the surrounding times should give the GM some handholds in case the PCs decide to travel around, which they really should not, since the reward offered by the Wizard has a time limit and decreases accordingly, an excellent complication.
Wrack is charming, seemingly pulled straight from a story-book, all hard-bitten taciturn fishermen, complete with an old man with an eyepatch regaling you with tales of a faery-island appearing out of the mists. They don’t like you but they will drink your ale. A reluctant priest of the sea-gods, a demented old woman whom the locals think is a witch, an unscrupulous smuggler captain on the docks, it’s got charm. There’s hidden depth, a concealed trident of Fish command, a rumored buried treasure, details that you can discover that help your quest for the wreckage immensely but that have to be carefully extracted.
The worst sin of underwater adventure, giving the entire party underwater magic items to render the challenge null and void, is skillfully side-stepped avoided. It IS possible to obtain some and they will be VERY helpful in achieving your quest, but the wizard is not going to conveniently dump anything in your lap. Complications that are seldom covered, like visibility or the autumn sea’s frigid temperature, and the exhaustive process of diving, are covered in detail sufficient to add a logistical challenge to the whole process. Every day the shifting tides have a chance of further burying the wreckage, scattering the stone golem parts, unearthing the stone golem parts (if they get entirely buried they cannot be found by simple searching) and how are you going to dredge these parts up actually they are 1000 lbs, and how much can your boat actually carry Hmn?
I don’t think anyone my age actually knows enough to make something like this anymore, a detailed, realistic scenario, strategically complex, with a ticking time. Also a Dragon Turtle. I should mention that. The faery island that appears periodically is a Dragon Turtle. For a certain period in the allotted time it will hunt because of the high tide. It’s never really mentioned that you have a chance of encountering it when its active, but if you do its effectively a TPK. Your first hint is actually seeing it fucking snap a sperm whale in half. How are you going to get your sailors to stay around hmmmn?
As mentioned before, the wreckage itself has some giant crabs guarding it, but there is not really a dungeon map, nor does there need to be. The delving process, in combination with occasional random encounters, should be sufficiently challenging and diverting to make for a handful of sessions of excellent, if very unconventional Adventure.
Treasure is sparse. The wizard’s reward clocks down as the Players exceed the time limit of 10 days, and magic items are promised only if ALL the pieces of the stone golem are retrieved and handed in. There is a minor chance the players will discover the buried treasure of Wrack, but I appreciate the chance of actually finding it as well as its placement. The one new magic item, the potion of sea change, has an interesting fickleness to it that I have come to associate with old D&D, and using it is, appropriately, not without its risks.
Other than the Dragon turtle, monster selection is restrained, no Sahuagin or other wacky deep sea monsters; Sharks, Giant octopi, Giant Crabs, different sort of Sharks. The restraint fits the low fantasy motif.
Wrack & Ruin is an interesting, very unconventional take on the delving for buried treasure motif, treating it as more of a logistical challenge, which is true to the spirit of old dungeons and dragons. The hidden depth elevates it further. It is actually somewhat hard to judge since it is so different from everything else. I would give it four stars for an unconventional premise, well-executed. While Faster Monkey Games is lamentably no longer in business they have generously put most of their catalogue on Drivethru for pay what you want, and the collection is being curated by Catthulhu.com.
I don’t know what Sparks is doing right now (I think he commented here once), but in his day, he delivered his odd number of fine adventures. An early pioneer, whose contribution is well marked.