Deep Carbon Observatory [Remastered] (2020)
Patrick Stuart & Scrap Princess
Once there was an Empire of unspeakable wealth that traded in secrets, dark wonders and death, and many of the strange things now on earth were theirs. They drew their power and magic from a gate within the earth. But, as their kingdom slowly died, they locked away their treasure with a lake, and set there sleepless and indestructible guards. Everyone knows where it is, on the Lock, upriver of Carrowmore. No-one who goes there has ever come back.”
– DCO Introduction, P. 10
I speak today of the father of the Artpunkmen and what I have to say will shock thee. It is true the man we have come to stand in judgement today is unorthodox, even strange, that he does not follow the Credo Gygaxiam as we do, that he cannot tell the Year of the First Coming from the Second and that the outpouring of filth coating every inch of itch.io and Drivethru would not have been possible without his creation, yes, it is all true.
Nevertheless, I say to thee, the Stupatrick is not a Heretic. I have come before you today, Lords of the Council of His Holy Inquisition, to state that his work is not only greater in merit then it is in pretension (albeit by a narrow margin), but that, indeed, its very existence is a monument, nay a deeply personal love-letter to the hallowed works of St. Gygax. Given that the Stupatrick cannot have read the hallowed G3 for he, on all accounts, displays the knowledge of D&D that is comparable to an ignorant child, storygamer, leper or drunk, we can only conclude that Deep Carbon Observatory is a miracle of the Holy Gygax, and that the spirit of St. Gygax worked through the Stupatrick, to absolve him Ex Ante Facto for the affront of the Artpunk movement he would beget with a single sublime module, the remastered version of which, created at the staggering price of 75000 britain money, is one I review before you today.
First, what is one to say of this new edition? In comparison with the old manuscript it is considerably more verbose and makes occasional concessions to gameability but the added bulk has rendered the whole unwieldy and despite almost compulsive hyperlinking, which is very much appreciated, the information is often presented unevenly or occasionally maddeningly unintuitive. One also cannot feel that some of the elements that have been elaborated upon serve to clutter up the original, which is at times elusive but implies more then it spells out, leaving much ambiguity to cover up any transgressions of continuity, verisimilitude or scale the module is want to commit, whereas the more girthy remastered edition spells everything out in greater detail, diminishing some its poignant mystique. On the bottom line; the remastered edition is more or less a net positive, as it is easier to use in actual play.
DCO Remastered retains a cautious adherence to the LOTFP system, with some of the anachronisms (like the ranger class for one of the Crows) rubbed out. It flirts with system-neutrality in some its notation, particularly with the singularly irritating use of the C for (coin) but never quite breaks out the snipper, a small mercy. There is a page-long explanation about the meaning of statt-blocks, a task generally regaled to the Core Book one is using, and a startling illustrations of the evils of a consumer-based society. This to illustrate the occasional bouts frustration for a seasoned reviewer when absorbing this otherwise remarkable creation. The editing is subtly fucked, with mystifying decisions involving the six-fold reprinting of identical golem statt blocks in service of the art, to haphazard placement of random encounter tables, to a bipolar relationship with using numbers, letters or nothing at all for keyed maps. It is never catastrophic or unworkable, merely grating.
Let me remind the Council of the initial premise of DCO; The PCs, nay, Le PCs, for this is Artpunk territory, are propelled in medias Res to the backwater village of Carrowmore, which has just suffered from catastrophic natural upheaval. A great dam, built by a terrible empire long gone, has finally broken through, flooding the whole valley below. Faced with a lavish bouquet of all the flavors of human misery, they become embroiled for some reason or another and gradually travel upstream, through a mud-and-water logged hellscape of ruined buildings, giant river fauna, death and decay. The tour becomes a mystical torture odyssey into the literal underworld as they venture into the ancient ruins of a tomb-dam, across the alien landscape of a dry lakebed and finally into forgotten depths long since sealed off, where vistas of terrifying alien splendor await.
Thirty hooks, an excessive amount, have been added to the reinassance of DCO, subdivided by motivation, ranging from Serious Heroism junk to the more atavistic and based Gold! Category. The more obvious and thus serviceable candidates include treasure maps, inheritances, bets with rival adventuring parties or just rumors of gold, with the more esoteric ones including madness, natural philosophy or the desire to escape an impending global economic meltdown (you and me both buddy). Overperformance, even if done recreationally, is not a sin, and thus follows my favorite one, the marvelously laconic “A crazy old coot sitting on a log traded you a story for a meal and told you of a king who dug to the middle of the world and came back with friends made of shadows. He was mad and they were bad so his brother pushed them back under the ground and built his tomb on top to keep them down. You have nothing better to do with your life than to investigate this old guys random story.”
DCO still begins in medias Res. The Characters are confronted with 2-3 crisis situations, and can respond to only one, with death or disappearance a likely result to any NPCs in the other situations. This repeats several times. UNLIKE the previous edition this time many of the events DO translate into more explicitly gameable results. Rescueing, say, Hans Gökul, results in him imploring the characters to find out a reason behind the catastrophe (with a handsome reward if they do so). Henchmen, quests, snatches of information or the attention of enemies can all result. This section introduces bold text to specifically indicate Possible Hirelings and Employers. Some of the rewrites are a bit dodgy; We no longer know Hans Gökul’s fortune is buried out of sight (PCs are bastards after all), and the formerly terse henchman descriptions occasionally slide into comedy or farce, ruining something of the cataclysmic atmosphere of the opening. Or to put it differently; The opening of DCO feels like the Road, the opening of DCO – Remastered occasionally feels like a One Piece episode.
There’s something about this:
9. Wit Tamdoun. Has a knife, a chipper grin and a Dex of 18
That is not present in this:
Possible Hireling: If treated well, Wit could be an effective, if irregular henchman. In fact, if treated well, the PCs may have no choice but to make him an employee as he will follow them around. 13 years old, he is brave, competent, deeply anti-authoritarian and a high-functioning alcoholic. Though he obsessively steals small items he is loyal and reliable in every other respect, so long as you keep him off the drink. DAMAGE: d4 knife MORALE: 10 DEX 15 STEALTH: 3 in 6 SLEIGHT OF HAND: 2 in 6
The structure of DCO is a…squarecrawl? terminating in a dungeon. Most of the budget for the new edition seems to have gone into producing legible maps, a considerable segment has gone into upgrading Scrapprincess’s Art to levels where it is not just tolerable but downright desirable, perhaps a single pound disappeared into editing with the remainder being funneled into Stuart’s annual allotment of crumpets, uppers and guiness. An excellent feature is the party of rival NPCs that travel on ahead of you and are meant to turn your journey there into a living hell. The Crows, an unlovely quartet of psychopaths serving as scouts of the guys you think you are going to be having a wholesome race for the treasure at the end with end up killing them and using their bodies as bait, and generally fight you in the most irritating and unfair ways possible, with access to an inexhaustible supply of raised dead, poisoned crossbows, hit and run tactics and all manner of shitbag tactics. Perfect. Weeb factor over 9000 but perfect.
Flavor text remains very much on point, even if the additional verbiage once more serves to diminish the impact:
Two siblings shaped by moments of coldness, linked, repeated and deep. Whatever hell they fled from left its mark, now they carry it with them, in action and in thought. The Crows survive. Their names are whispered respectfully in crypts where nothing lives. Rumours of them run through jails where none escape. Their use is questioned in courts that condemn without appeal. They are secretly spoken of, and feared, in the dreams of the damned and the whispered speech of fearful kings.
This section has been improved considerably, with anything from the Dwarven sniper being given engagement ranges to round by round tactics and a list of schemes, tactics and tricks that they employ. I would say this is the first genuine improvement to the older edition. I don’t quite know why their AC is listed as Plate and it says (Dex) or why their movement speed is 35, somehow inhabiting the liminal space between an unarmoured human being and a lightly encumbered human being (with the exception of Zaghoun) and I am VERY skeptical about the decision to change Zaghoun’s poisoned crossbow sneak attack from x3 to the staggeringly lethal x5 albeit with a slower reload. One assumes past playtesting.
As the characters venture up the river, which now has been divided into different terrain with different effects on movement (!), they come across several situations, each one very dynamic, giving the impression of a formerly peaceful place caught in the current (geddit?) of events. A man atop a great mill assailed by giant crabs. Two dueling wizards in a canoe. A church surrounded by giant toads, lethargic, some so stuffed with corpses that the limbs poke from their sides. Starving children burning ancient spell scrolls that have washed down with the floodwater for warmth. In this landscape transformed by catastrophe roam six slowly dying automatons the size of buildings, each the key to passage further up the river. Villagers huddle on their rooftops, seeking solace from some terrible evil that cannot be remembered once it is no longer seen, and that has been killed many times and each time by a different weapon. Atmospherically it is striking. There are hints of a greater design that can be peaced together from individual encounters but this is never explicitly spelled out, which makes it all the more powerful. In this DCO’s choice for Lotfp is fitting, an atmospheric powerhouse. Tying the Witch to the Things from Below, Patrick’s nightmare re-imagining of the Drow, not as sterile corporate cartoon evil, but as horrible nightmare beings of terrifying legend, whose mere proximity is enough to inspire unimaginable pain and torment, only increases the power of these terrifying beings.
It is tempting to continue in this histographic trend because so many of the encounters are memorable or interesting or have some idea or visual aesthetic that stands out.
Second section: The DAM, constructed by the ancients, part Egyptian tomb, part, well, dam, no height given (booooh) but presumably high enough to present a serious fucking obstacle. Multiple methods of bypassing it, with the tombs inside being essentially optional. Now is also about the time I start complaining about one of the major additions in DCO Remastered: the additional parties that follow behind the PCs that are not the Crows. I can’t quite put my finger on why I’m not entirely convinced. Is it that one random encounter would turn them into vapor? The cannibals setting out to free the Witch AND THEN the Things In The Crypt (in the dam) COULD be a good complication but it feels…cheap? Superfluous? And the Observatory proper actually works best if there ISN’T anyone there to distract people from the murderous cartilage giant that squeezes itself through its claustrophobic environs.
Giant digression; The Dam proper is nice, maps are rudimentary, linear affairs, but the multiple methods of surmounting it and the option to either explore or leave be as one sees fit is appreciated. What is not appreciated is the abstract difficulty curves for various climbing tasks. I have said it once and I will say it a million times. It is often just as easy if not easier to just write things down for a single system and then convert it to its equivalent value in a different system then to kowtow to this inane, everyone-gets-a-prize system-neutrality. 99.9% is either going to run this for 5e (in which case it doesn’t matter what you do) OR run it for one of three highly similar retroclone games anyway.
The Dam is where the pseudo-naturalistic environment of the Disaster-area is replaced with the perils of a tomb but here too there is this sense of transition and motion; a once ancient place has been violated by catastrophe. Formerly secret doors have been hammered in or are flooded. The undead and constructs of the Tomb are appropriately grotesque, and even here there is the occasional secret to discover or guardian construct that rewards interaction. The undead are all fantastic; Canoptic guardians whose jars may be smashed, mummified bureaucrats whose assault is unimpressive and of course the terrifying THINGS IN THE JARS, who point to the true nature of the place that the PCs will be visiting without ever spelling it out hell yes. Murals hint at the true nature of the dam and what it was meant to contain. The whole serves to instill an ominous foreboding that never quite pays off the way one thinks. Almost no treasure unless one is present to invest a year of study, and thus some gold piece values would have been nice.
The codification of movement speeds over different types of terrain and the inclusion of notes of day and night ARE A FANTASTIC ADDITION to DCO because EVERYTHING in DCO is BRIMMING WITH VISCERAL DETAIL or attempts to tug at your heartstrings and thus getting IMMERSED is its primary focus, and these types of mundane factors eliminate abstraction and create a much needed grounding.
Le Troisieme Acte: L’auteur utilise des insultes homophobes!
I feel my mind is moving into different spheres to facilitate the proper analytical level and this can really only be a good thing THANK THEE GARY GYGAX FOR THIS BLESSING FOR I AM MEANT TO SOAR AND BREATHE PRISMATIC FIRE UPON MY ENEMIES AS THEY SCREAM FOR A MERCIFUL DEATH THAT WILL NEVER ARRIVE NOT BE CONFINED TO THE RUDIMENTARY STANDARDS OF NONLINEAR MAP, PROPER TREASURE PLACEMENT, VERSIMILITUDE, SHORT-EVOCATIVE DESCRIPTION, FACTION PLAY AND ANTI-HITLER DISCLAIMERS THAT MAKE UP 95% OF THE OSR CATALOGUE.
The third part of the odyssey takes the player across the reed bed and has, in the Remastered Edition, actual damn elements of faction play in addition to the hideous giant fauna random encounters that is our bread and butter. The landscape is surreal and inimical, petrified forests filled with eels, fields of expiring giant pufferfish, bioluminescent fields of anemone’s clinging to the skeletal bodies of long dead armies.
That being said, the Remastered edition has turned this into a possible, full-on pitched battle between the newt-people and the indigenous Reed-People, with the possibility of getting their pyritized marsh mummy ancestors embroiled in the conflict, or you could, alternatively, steal their shit. This is ONE area where I would have liked to see some sort of reward system if you either A) save the villagers or B) broker the unlikely peace the adventure mentions but doesn’t really go into, and it would have been nice to have a reason to side with the Newt guys. Otherwise, there’s rudimentary tactics so the pitched battle can be arbitrated properly.
This is the weakest part of DCO because it feels very empty and incomplete. There is no treasure, there’s barely any encounters save the newts and the villagers which one can elect to skip, and even if one decides to interact, there isn’t really any reward for doing so. But this is forgiveable because we soon arrive to the actual Deep Carbon Observatory Proper, down a shaft in the earth bombarded with light by gigantic mirrors, meant to hold lamps so they can keep up their barrage for an aeon. Hell yes.
Part IV: This Is What We Came Here For
The conclusion of Deep Carbon Observatory, where we die in a hole, suspended over a great void. A vertical 40ish room dungeon, ambitious, burrowed out of an enormous stalagtite. Inside, finally, vast treasures, sparse enemies and an all but invincible, but slow, monster, a cartilaginous giant, silent, crawling and deadly, that stalks the players through this great maze and seeks to crush and devour them.
Map legibility has been improved, which makes the whole much easier to actually run. There are bottlenecks and shafts and the whole forms a rough vertical circle, making extended chase scenes possible. The giant pursues the PCs inexorably and will try to block off avenues of escape. Its most disturbing feature is its ability to force itself through spaces much smaller than its head. A smattering of ancient weapons (clearly belonging to the NotDrow) and odd objects can be hastily weaponized against this terrifying threat. There are a few other perils, and I am unsure how to take the suggestion of all the rival parties arriving after the PCs. On the one hand it could prevent a leisurely looting after the giant has been dealt with, on the other hand it might disrupt something of the purity of the chase. They are, however, a good addition, as giving the PCs leisure to cart off all the riches of this place will propel them into the stratosphere, minor dragon’s hoard my ass! 
Nearly all the other encounters are interaction based, very good, from a captured slave kept alive by a hideous lock to a slime-ambassador inhabiting a body of glass. Where the psychic dinonychus fits in I have not quite managed to discern, but my scientists are working on it.
What DCO excels at, surprisingly on a reread, is to inject this bizarre environment with an odd type of verisimilitude. Everything seems to have been created with an in-game purpose and exists according to an internal logic, and only careful placement of hazards and tweaking render the whole gameable. It is really details like this that make it come alive.
Hidden under the dirt of the far wall are slave survival spells in a simple tongue, decipherable by any mage. All the spells count as level one, are not very powerful and can be cast without being noticed. Reduce Scars. Lessen Pain. Minimise Thirst. Hide Sorrow. Avoid Notice. Ease Grief
This is combined with gameplay, as the PCs must locate and find several passwords scattered throughout the observatory in a remarkably organic fashion in order to gain access to the inner sanctum, with success certainly not being guaranteed. Once they do so, they are in for a treat, a Zak S reference that has aged like fine milk, a staggering amount of wealth and a set of magical items that are both incredibly powerful and essentially cursed (the wearer of the crown and mace+5 can unerringly detect lies but must kill and destroy anyone who does so).
This is where I make the argument that DCO is actually much more traditional then its reputation would indicate, allowing me to escape the pyres of my fellow OSR-Inquisitors and possibly salvaging my already irreparably damaged reputation.
DCO is a highly ambitious recreation of the end of G3’s revelation of the Underdark. The wonders and horrors of the Observatory, from the Slime ambassador to unnervingly beautiful Salt Dryads, these are all a recreation, an attempt to evoke the same wonder that early players must have felt at the revelation that underneath the mountain fortress, a whole new world existed. In form DCO is almost entirely original, but in spirit it is EXACTLY this, but amplified! The Drow have been turned into creatures of nightmare, so abominable that the mere sight of them causes one to weep tears of blood that freeze on one’s face. Ineffable miracle materials are discovered, sentient geisha golems of silk, crossbow bolts of silence and duergar digging tools that run on human blood. This recreation is so fertile, and hints at such vast worlds below through the use of orreys, strata, and terrifying under-art objects that may be carted off (keep track of encumbrance when you run this), that here we see the seeds that would later grow into Veins of the Underdark.
It is also much more traditional then any of its awful offspring in the sense that it actually adheres to one law that is all but ignored in much artpunk trash, that of verisimilitude, and presents a type of fantastical eco-system, beginning with relatively mundane animals, sometimes gigantic. Crabs, eels, giant sturgeons, there is an underlying order to it all, a hierarchy that renders the fantasy believable and slowly eases the players from the land of the mundane to the land of the wondrous and the strange. This is married to a sense of motion, a sense of time passing, that one can find nowhere in Vornheim or RaPl for example; Creatures are in the process of inhabiting the world, tombs have been broken open, lives have been altered by the cataclysm.
There are the odd practical concerns involved with giving the players nine billion gp worth of treasure, or how exactly the mathematical shapes work, or whether the groups that follow them will even stand a chance against seasoned PCs, or the fact that the observatory map doesn’t have a scale, or how the surrounding sessions will deal with a manual of black silk with writing in silver thread that can ruin empires with ideas (but this is actually a good inclusion) but if one looks at Deep Carbon Observatory Remastered, one can see a concerted effort to CLEAN UP the mechanics, to provide legible maps, to edit and cross-reference (though this is surely a herculean endeavor), to work out some of the encounters so they become much easier to run, to clarify some things and to generally improve on the product, not as a work of art  but as a module to be used.
The original DCO hit the OSR like an atom bomb and spawned an artistic legacy whose misshapen progeny will haunt the abandoned parlours of drivethru and itch.io for a long time. The writing and imagination was always superb. The implementation was lacking. DCO Remastered seeks to better itself in the only area where it really needed to do so. The end result is something that is runnable, works as a game, and still does what it sets out to do, the adventure as something to be experienced.
That he be canonized among the highest, that his work be recognized, its virtues extolled, its praises lauded.
To the rest, only the fires.
Fuck it. *****
Post-sleep correction: Busted down to ****. There is a higher-order synergy between encounters, a co-operation between disparate elements, a refinement in the mapping and the objectss that this module, for its many strengths, does not quite reach. The encounters in the observatory are individually very strong but I am missing a type of coherence that is difficult to articulate. Its good but I am not convinced it can stand toe to toe with anything I have given Five Stars.
 To give one an idea, one room holds 2-8 art objects worth between 1-20.000 each (value not distributed symmetrically).
 Here too it has improved, as the Scrapprincess Art has improved considerably
[Review] Deep Carbon Observatory (Remastered); The Grievous Miracle and the Beautification of St. Patrick
29 thoughts on “[Review] Deep Carbon Observatory (Remastered); The Grievous Miracle and the Beautification of St. Patrick”
Ha! Told ya!
I ran about half of the adventure, so far, with the party making it to the dam before being decimated by the Canoptic Guards. You spotted a lot of the flaws that only became apparent to me upon running it. There absolutely isn’t enough treasure before you get to the Observatory itself. Some of the encounters are superfluous. The whole rally-race concept of multiple following parties seemed very extraneous. I would have zero idea what to do if a bunch of helpful villagers caught up with the party.
And to say that the organization is “subtly fucked” is a very good way of putting it. Individual sections are pretty well-arranged, but the way information is split among them and the lack of a unifying structure makes it harder to work with than was at first apparent.
One thing you missed: those Canoptic Guards, as written, are too tough. The dam is a choke point in the adventure in the same way it is for the river. Inside, it’s an entirely linear dungeon, and it would take a lot ingenuity to progress without fighting through the guards. There are eight of them, and they each have 5 HD and halberds in an adventure for levels 3-5. There’s no social interaction (they’re undead constructs), and precious little room for trickery. You have to hit them five times at AC 2 to kill them, and half the times you do so, something nasty shoots out of the wound.
But most if it…yeah, phantasmagoric imagery bursting with potential energy. The Witch is such a great encounter that she left the entire party deeply spooked. The Crows managed to fill the party with boiling rage, but then the PCs turned around and butchered half of them during a failed ambush. The Corpse Toads at the church evoked the appropriate disgust and urge to exterminate. A hapless cleric was drowned by a giant lungfish (oh, the irony). Great, great stuff.
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I actually woke up just now and have decided to bust it down. There is a sort of sloppiness to it, the way encounters are distributed etc. etc. Its all good stuff but it could be better I think. There is mastery yet to be won.
I have no doubt you are right but you don’t have to kill the Canoptic Guards in order to proceed, so I assumed they were meant more as an encounter to be avoided rather then tackled in straightforward fashion. Its OSR-ville so we are allowed to do so.
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In theory, you could run past the Canoptic Guards, but it is not easy. They only activate after you trigger a rolling boulder trap from opening the only door forward. If you run immediately after the trap is sprung, you could probably get past them while only taking a couple hits. BUT don’t forget that one of the next rooms you reach in this linear dungeon is full of pit traps. And if you trigger one of those, you fall into a room of zombies.
The best way to beat the Canoptic Guards is to leave through one of the doors and setup a choke point to defend against them. I assume that they are relatively brainless, so they will keep advancing towards the doorway until one of you is dead. So that would work. But in the text, there’s nothing to indicate how intelligent they are, so another GM might decide they are too smart for that.
It WAS playtested, so I’m curious how it turned out in those sessions. Patrick, are you still around?
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Well, I’ll be darned, this is the first review of any of Stuart’s work that’s made me consider picking it up. I love his literature reviews but the gushing fans of his RPG work completely and totally turned me off. Now you make it sound like he wrote something that can be used for Actual DnD? How is this Scrap Princess “improvement” in the art? Normally his work makes me feel vaguely nauseous and headachy.
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One can absolutely use it for Actual DnD. I think the problem with those circles is that these are all artistic people who are flighty, sensitive, emotional etc. etc. etc. so you get lots of effulgent praise for things that fulfill the desire for novelty or that spark the senses but there is absolutely no attention devoted to any of the mechanics or structure of the game since that is largely unimportant to begin with, and criticism risks hurting the feelings of the one that is critiqued, a mortal sin! Fortunately there are monsters like myself that are capable of delivering the occasional much-needed hatchet-blow.
R.E. Scrap Art. The art has been fortified, elaborated, often redrawn. I think Scraps art fits the mood of the overal piece here, and he has improved since the shit days of FoV and early DCO. Its still a taste thing and I lack the background to evaluate the technique etc (my girlfriend assures me the technique is very good).
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How curious. The other night your girlfriend also assured me the technique was very good.
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While it would be entertaining to follow this one up with a ‘Rude Carbon Observatory’ post, this seems a a clear döppleganger. Here is the proof:
1. Patrick Stuart is such an inherently virtuous individual that he would never debase himself by sleeping with a woman with a vagina, no matter how incredibly desirable.
2. As part of their initiation into the upper echelons of Lotfp-era OSR, it is a little known fact all authors had to watch and write lengthy critiques of all of Zak’s pornos. What even fewer people know is that every time Patrick Stuart engages in flamewars online, he communicates exclusively in sentences drawn from those accursed texts, redeeming them a sentence at a time by anointing them with the anguished cries of his enemies. I still bear the pain of his cryptic putdown, agonizing over its true meaning. “Such degradation inflicted upon you that day. Like some withered, pulsating wheeled chimera of tattooed flesh, dyed hair and aluminum. How much atrocity can be contained in a single photon?”
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The above is indeed a False Patrick. A troubling development.
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His Lordship would do well to remember that I retain the services of a powerful doppleganger:
Comments Section. Control F Venger Satanis.
I DM’d the original back when and have been a fan since. I still cannot care about the misery-tourism, so I skipped that and just used the Observatory proper. Good fun! It even converted a dungeon-hating player into a Dungeon-junky. What I really loved about the original was the DIY-nature of it. I felt I could intepret and mix & match; like DJs/producers exchanging some beats and sounds. So the intense ideas and cart-loads of infinities did not crush the game world, campaign or universe.
More recent offerings more and more went into the “a whole, finely crafted product universe of tragic infinite doom, do not tamper wirth it!” vibe that I cannot be bothered with.
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I have mentioned I liked the interview you did with Melan yes? It was very good.
Its interesting, the thing that you liked about the original DCO is one that I hated. I prefer a firm initial foundation, so that it is easy for me to extrapolate any deviation I introduce from the material as written upon all the disparate components. The Mix/Match stuff has a bit of a built in flaw in that a lot of material that is included is ultimately arbitrary. I liked the DIY element of Carcosa but for Modules I want kraftwerk.
One marathon listen later, I have heard Settembrimi’s show starring Melan. Lots of interesting material covered. Helveczia sounds very promising, It was interesting that Melan noted how WFRP careers could be a good fit for PCs, but rejected the grimness usually associated with the Old World. I agree with the former: you could imagine a roguish but charismatic musketeer being well modelled by the Estalian Diestro then Highwayman careers. Regarding the latter, I think WFRP fits action comedy thriller just as well, and this could be the Border Princes supplement that WFRP never got.(The 2e materials for that region were underwhelming.)
To contribute something on topic, the start of DCO has been tightened up? I felt it was intriguing, but unless rival groups are shouting out to the PCs for help and you are limited to helping just one, you don’t really get the information needed for a meaningful choice (and a sad feeling as you see the others swept away).
For “Settembrimi”, read Settembrini. My typing stills are on the same level as Bryce’s, without the amusing new words.
Yes, thanks again for the praise!
I could try to play blase and critique certain oaky aftertastes…but the fact still remains that the Observatory proper opened my eyes to many things that I experience as groundbreaking. The way the ocular and the moths interact and so forth. And that is all there in the original, without padding. Also note that I ran DCO with RIFTS, so peculiarites of rules, ressource rhythm and setting all went out of the window anyway. It is a testament to Patricks abilities as a creative person that DCO works as much as a quarry as it does as a tour-de-force with misery-decision-points.
Polishing somehting so groundbreaking…I dunno, I guess he has to pay the bills. And “people” demanded it. I see no big value in it, though. What is up with the Air, Fire and Water observatories? Where those jokes or actually planned? I’d love to see those in the scrappy DIY style. I’d pay for those, even if they were formulaicly just shuffling through the elements.
“Also note that I ran DCO with RIFTS”
Well, now it makes perfect sense. It would be a GREAT RIFTS adventure.
“What is up with the Air, Fire and Water observatories? ” Patrick said on Instagram that he is working on a new “trilogy” and it is the same time part 2 of 4. I imagine that it is what he’s talking about, this 3 Observatories where the Deep Carbon is the first one. It is only my speculation, though. By the way, it seems that the title he have for the draft of the next one is “Demon Bone Sarcophagus”, if this makes any sense.
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I own both versions (standard and remastered) of DCO in print. I ran DCO but I didn’t like the pre-observatory part as it seemed very ‘point A to point B’ type of adventure for me. Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of content there that could be utilized. But as a whole it’s not the best part of DCO.
That being said – I think the Observatory is amazing. Me and my party – we highly enjoyed it. It’s original, dense and full of interesting content. My biggest problem is the Giant, since it’s basically “kill your party” type of monster. In my game I introduced a “controller” for turbine golems which my players used to fuck up the Giant. We had fun. The treasure is great. Troll teeth in the acid provided so much joy to our session. When my players realized what is it, they started to use them as “Troll grenades” for decoy.
As for art – I’m not the biggest fan of Scrap’s art, but DCO Remastered is definitely his greatest piece.
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I have heard the Dam encounter is hard to run? Can you all explain this? The map and falling rock mechanism, how does that work?
If you can go around the dam what is stopping to party from climbing the cliffs to the observaTory to skip the whole point crawl/ first part of the module.
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You can indeed go out of bounds, but doing so would be slower presumably, and to be charitable many of the assignments incentivize you to seek things out.
“It is never catastrophic or unworkable, merely grating.”
I’ve never owned, read, or played DCO…can’t even remember reading a review that’s as explanatory as this one. So thank you for that…it’s much appreciated over simple “gushing.”
Completely off topic, I just received my print copies of Red Prophet Rises and Palace of Unquiet Repose. I skimmed the PDFs but I much prefer hardcopy and look forward to reading them leisurely in my hammock.
Ey, thank you very much for your support. Lemme know what you think about them!
I can vouch for the POD version of Palace, its pretty neat, good quality paper and the art looks great. A true hardcover is something I’d consider if I had a bunch of Age of Dusk adventures to bundle in. A sort of master anthology, Palace, Vaults, maybe something about Mount Azzarat and the Guardians of the Highest Citadel, the Weapon etc. etc.
My party ended up building a settlement that grew into a city around the observatory- pretty much every element of DCO ran extremely well, including the much maligned maps (though i believe i have someone else online who had redone the maps to thank for that). The party did indeed broker a peaceful coexistence between the newt people and the reed people, the magical items had some very fun intraparty consequences. Alas, they never ventured deeper than the observatory….
Plus that Giant is my favorite monster ever!
I do not own the updated version, but the original DCO was brilliant. It showed the world what happens when a true creative genius of a writer tries his hand at adventure writing. Everything that was old and tired popped as if brand new. It was the pamphlet-adventure that launch a 1000 imitators. Sadly, very few people are as gifted as Mr. Stuart. In my opinion, we hadn’t see anyone since Gygax with that same level of talent. Strangely, both did it in a very low-budget, no-gloss, media.
Although the ideas sparkled, the original DCO suffered a bit in implementation (the map!). It hide that well under a veneer of shabby-chic. I was truly hoping this remastered edition with be a gem polished to perfection—aided by two decades of play-reports. It sounds like that didn’t quite happen. Too bad. Maybe next time.
Thanks for tackling it in a review. An entertaining read as always. Your 5 stars seems to be reserved for perfection (which we’ll never get that in this life). In my opinion, even flawed, DCO deserves a seat among the highest echelon. No only for what it is, but for what it did for the hobby.
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Man, I still think I have given out WAAAY too many 5 stars. The more I go into the old stuff, the more I am inclined to revoke them. B2 is great but if you compare it with GDQ its not that good for example. I might at some point follow Kents advice and do a combined author + module rating but that only works for a few authors with extensive catalogs.
I don’t think DCO deserves the status of Masterwork because despite some of its overwhelming advantages I don’t get the idea its firing on all cylinders. It would be easy to nitpick it to death. I do think it is very good, among the landmarks of the new OSR stuff. But no, not 5 stars.
There are some obvious cases for revisiting ratings, when there is a previous offering along the same lines you didn’t know about before, e.g. Death Frost Doom when you have read the Lichway.
Maybe you might dabble with some sort of tariff system? The outpost on the edge of civilisation menaced by humanoids is so familiar, perhaps the most it should earn is four stars without some exciting twist. (I think Ironwood Gorge is superior to B2, but B2 did it so much better than many of its imitators.)
Ratings are helpful, but the depth of your reviews and the insightful points made are what makes them so good. There is an interesting thread on Dragonsfoot with people giving their thoughts about the TSR classics series by series (which you have noticed). I would suggest those folks are on a similar wavelength to you, yet there is some divergence in general opinion e.g. B5. (My own views are much closer to yours, which may be no great recommendation.) I think your ratings in in the right ballpark, and it is a tricky business anyway (For instance B11 is only worth two stars for veterans, but maybe three stars for beginners?)