No Artpunk Entry #7; The Valley of Karaccia

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The Valley of Karaccia
Matthew Evans (Mithgarthr  Entertainment)
25 Pages
Lvl 1-3
Rules Cyclopedia

That sweet semi public domain art

We are at the point, somewhat over a third into the contest, when we need to stir up some shit and throw a winch in the works. Matthew Evans contacted me and inquired whether or not it was legal to enter his professionally published module, RC1 The Valley of Karaccia, into the contest, which is not unlike the anime about a gang of scrappy kids building their own fighting robots from spare automobile parts to compete in a tournament and the evil team Tossa run by the PMC enters the next generation combat robot into the listings without even bothering to remove the reactive armor and the self-repair nanites but just gives it a bunch of red racing stripes and it somehow passes through the review board. I don’t think I ever specified that what was done is illegal so…can’t make things too easy on you guys!

Valley of Karaccia represents a sort of mini-setting, 3 towns, in a valley maybe 30 by 40 miles max? with two adventures, one of which consists of…3 dungeons?  85 rooms total?

This whole thing emulates the style of Rules Cyclopedia; presentation, encounter style and somehow the language? It has both the strengths and the weaknesses; the elegant simplicity, the quaint fantasy aesthetic and the lavish portions of vanilla that are draped over the whole. It is charmingly, dorkingly, wuvingly B/X, like a DnD based solely on reading the Hobbit. It’s problem: It is late era B/X!

The gazzeteer is of admirable brevity, a humble 2 pages + map, and describes the Valley of Karaccia and its starting town of Brink. The RCisms start to creep in soon, with the town of 2000 guys run by a 14th level patriarch, an elven potion merchant, a dwarven armsdealer, a married couple that sells horses, and a 4th level guard captain and his 8 retainers. I like the altered prices of some goods, something that I often overlook but which can a whiff of exoticism to different locations. Details on laws and population distributions are all provided. That’s good. The central problem with brink and the gazzeteer is that it is rather too vanilla at times.

The Humans of Karaccia are generally friendly folk, more curious of outsiders than wary. The halflings are similar, if not more amiable. The dwarves, while not disagreeable, tend to keep to themselves. You’ll often find dwarves working with the other races – trading, adventuring, etc. – but will rarely find them at festivities and social gatherings. The elves tend to come off as cold and emotionless, but can open up warmly to those who have proven themselves to be good, honest folk in the elves’ eyes

 Assault, murder, slander, tithe avoidance, and theft are all illegal. Most are sentenced with jail time and/or fines, though murder almost always results in public hanging   

Yes I can slot into Karameikos without blinking which is an asset but I am missing a bit of oomph, a single detail which might serve to elevate the place out of the hash of automated random generation tables. An excavated mythril mine, the site of an ancient battle between gods and men, the birthplace of a king, something that gives it a bit of oomph. And to its credit, some of this detail is provided a bit later but the overall effect is one of usefulness, but on the bland side.

For the town, I would have liked to see something surprising, buried treasure, an enemy spy, an unreliable ally etc. etc.

Dungeons in order.

The first is an introductory adventure, delivered in typical RC fashion. Its kind of dorky but I can’t help but smile at the wholesomeness. There is a 100 gp bounty on a kobold chief 2 miles from the town, and Gerran Hillfall, the local braggart, has vowed to claim the prize before you SHMUCKS!  The dreaded Crimson Caverns Await! No rumor table, random encounter table of only kobolds, indicating Evans knows EXACTLY what a random encounter table is for.

Your basic Kobold starting dungeon cavern for B/X. 5 rooms on the first level, warts and all then 18 on the second, and a single winding entrance down. A little environmental effect, an eerie red glow, returns creatures to life. A good attempt at foreshadowing, one of the first encounters is the braggart Gerran and his friends, now zombies, that attack you.

It’s difficult to comment, I can see what it tried to do and it succeeds flawlessly but it’s also Legrange Point vanilla B/X DnD, no-ifs, no-buts and I process it almost on a subconscious level. It’s B/X written by a post-singularity AI that makes no mistakes but has absorbed only B11 and RC. You get your cave, your skeletons, your kobolds (occasionally with surprise chance) and the odd vermin like a crab spider or a toad. There’s some rudimentary tactics as they flee to warn occupants of other caves. Treasure is slightly generic in that B/X way and flawlessly implemented. Ruby pendants, platinum bracelets, 45 ep and everything. I don’t even have to tell you some of its properly concealed, some of it behind a locked chest or worn, it’s never JUST there for no reason. I have a sinking feeling that if I add it all up, it will combine to be exactly what is needed for a party of 6-8 characters to advance to level 2.

There’s even some weird; some mushrooms that allow you to breathe underwater, a weird red crystal that emits a red glow and if you touch it you might die and animate as a zombie, the odd empty cave with graffiti. There’s nothing where I am like WHOAH HOLY SHIT, its extremely safe, but it all works. There’s even a giant crab in a pool at the end, with treasure, but…it’s a giant crab. Do you want to fuck with a giant crab at this level?

Next giant encounter tables for overland travel, not strictly necessary but appreciated, and a good replacement for the murderous Outdoors Adventure tables at level 1-3. Subdivided into hills, grasslands and forest because of course it is. RC1 uses its one slot to introduce the Amber Iris, a flower that can put people to sleep with a puff of pollen that feels so B/X that if someone had told me Metzer or whoever did the Red book wrote it and just forgot to put it in I would have believed it.

I think it technically violates the contest entry rules by introducing the Killer Tree and the Giant Wood spider next, so the scrappy kids maybe get a break on a technicality. I’m still reviewing this.

The second one is more involved. Ariabelle, the patriarchs adventurer daughter, has been stricken by a terrible curse, probably proof against Remove Curse. After some fuckery, he finds records of an old splinter cult of the wholesome CHURCH OF ERM (which considers anything that harms the body as especially bad because it is considered an attack on the Goddess, but humanoids and other chaotic creatures are considered perversions of nature and must be obliterated without mercy whoah) which once included a DEATH GODDESS. The sanctum once dedicated to her use has been abandoned 100 years ago, but apparently contains the artifact in question. You are offered 250 gp and can haggle for a bigger reward but if you fail the encounter check Father Stephen is mortally offended and essentially tells the PCs to fuck off…what? C’mon dude, his daughter is dying don’t be like that. The crypt is a convenient 2 miles from the town!

ELO 2800 E4 KF3 ONLY

This one is…weird. Someone put the ELO higher so the computer gets tricky and finds weird lines. The map SEEMS linear but there’s secret doors along the way that MAYBE you could find with careful mapping. One thing that Evans understands is the value of an entry piece. The PCs have just entered a realm, a crypt beyond the mundane world. Give them something to stare at, signal that shit is different here:

The northern section is dominated by a 25’ tall statue of Sra’ha with eyes made of green jewels. One glows, the other does not. The glowing gem is impossible to remove. The other comes out easily, and is made of glass.   

This one is a bit of a slog. The monsters are all undead, mindless (gelatinous cube) or constructs. Traps are frequent, almost mercilessly so, and actually ARE placed in hallways, which somehow works? It’s got all the tomb trappings, statues, alcoves, catacombs. What am I to make of a hallway where a potion of antidote is provided in one alcove, with a locked chest with a save or die poison trap in the next alcove? Is this the machine’s way of making light at the poor mortals trying to fathom its labyrinthine designs. Every time you start to thank DUDE THIS IS JUST A BUNCH OF SKELETONS ATTACKING FROM ALCOVES INTERSPERSED WITH EMPTY ALCOVES Evans throws up something strange. A sarcophagus illuminated by a globe of continual light, with YELLOW MOULD inside. You nod and go, ah yes, Yellow Mould, this is indeed a valid move at Basic level, well done Sir Evans, before you lose a guy to the pollen he breathed in. But what about the WEI-fountain covered with frescoes of the afterlife, drinking gives hp. ISN’T THAT LOCKED CHEST JUST SITTING THE-oh it’s hidden behind a hard to find secret door.

All of this while doing form perfect RC. Who in garl glittergold’s name would do Form Perfect Rules Cyclopedia?!? HOW MANY ENCOUNTERS WITH PERFECTLY GENERIC SKELETONS CAN YOU COME UP WITH WITHOUT EVER REPEATING A MOVE OR MAKING A MISTAKE? I THINK I AM GOING INSANE.

Two patriarchal statues flank a wall pocked with niches. Each round for three rounds, three skeletons climb out to attack. AC: 7 HD: 1 (M) MV: 60’ (20’) Att: club Dmg: 1d4 SA: F1 ML: 12 Int: 1 AL: C XP: 20 Hit Points: 8, 8, 8, 7, 5, 5, 4, 4, 2 Burial niches: 15pp, 50gp, 200sp, two Potions of Healing, and one Potion of Poison

Old moth-eaten ceremonial robes hang from pegs in the north wall. Candles, spoiled incense, and crumbling prayer books can be found in a cabinets along the southeast wall. A lone skeleton clad in full yet rusted suit armor and clutching a poleaxe sits in a chair on the west wall. It animates and attacks if the door to 23 is opened.

Eight skeletons animate from a large pile of bones in the southwest corner and attack

Where is the OH LOOK A SECRET DOOR IN FRONT ON AN ALTAR OF HUMAN SACRIFICE. THE SEAMS ARE VISIBLE BUT THE DOOR WILL NOT OPEN. WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? You figure it out, but its something you figure out on your 3rd attempt. Again, that’s exactly right.

The gloves come off with the gentleness of an angel.

The ceiling, the center of which is a chartreuse color, domes up to 18’ in the center, in which a glass ball with Continual Light cast upon it is affixed. The green section of ceiling isn’t paint, but instead a green slime. As soon as a PC gets next to the sarcophagus, the slime drops on them

So this would just be a generic adventure, artifact at the end right? WRONG. The entire tomb is empty. There is a cryptic, but definitely not hard to find room that contains a tonne of treasure, and a scroll WITH A RIDDLE, leading to…another location! The Stranglehole, where a gem has been taken that seals off THE SECOND LEVEL OF THE TOMB YOU HAVE JUST EXPLORED BUT DID NOT KNOW EXISTED.

The Stranglehole.

Three levels with a shaft leading through it, covered with vines so it can be climbed, but there is a percentage chance the vines animate. Good Gm advice in the intro

Note that it is completely possible for characters to go straight to the room with the key for the lower level of Fallsbarrow and grab it, running from the living statues and using magic to escape. If they do, let them! Don’t be a GM who punishes smart play, those guys are dicks.

8 rooms, dick moves and some treasure. 3 Harpies is rough, Gray Ooze from the ceiling. You don’t expect B/X to pull the ole ‘monster stronger then you probably thought it was.’ Back to the Barrow you go for level 2.

Ye aulde 4 potions secret doore puzzle

Brutal level. Not Jaquayed, never Jaquayed. Intricate but blunt. Wandering Ghouls. What else do we put here? A puzzle that must be solved so a final door may be opened! Ghouls and empty and alcoves and ghouls and Sarcophagi and animating skeletons and more ghouls. If the AI gets bored you can find crates of treasure, plentiful magic items (I don’t know whether a cursed mace +1, -2  vs undead is new, otherwise its another technical violation), and BAM crate full of yellow mould just when you were getting tired. Also throws a Bone Golem at the PCs, apropos of nothing. No interaction between different rooms. No talking. Just death in infinite variety, never repeating. The BBG is a ghoul priestess, interred with her apostate Death Goddess, throwing custom balls of sickening light in a way that reminds me of the Creature Catalog (an underappreciated Monster Manual). The ending is actually moving, as the Father gives his life to perform the ritual so Sister Ariabelle can be saved, and she takes over as Head cleric.

Uh damn. This is…good RC DnD whatever that means. It’s (appropriately) basic. Not much interaction, prisoners to free, negotiation, complicated tactics (though there are occasionally tactics). It’s not quite monotonous but not quite dynamic either. There is NOT A HINT of ostentation around the plentiful magical treasure. Playing it would be highly engaging if one is looking for exactly the Basic DnD roll up some guys and smack down the skeletons in a tomb in a vanilla sort of way that few other adventures could manage. At the same time, if you are not looking for extremely well-executed ‘throw the burning oil at the rats’ then it might lose some of its lustre. It doesn’t quite inspire like the best of B/X, or indulge in the more ‘advanced’ Gygax-style GM fuckery, who used many of those same elements but somehow managed to channel not what they were but what they represented.

I’m not sure if I will consider this one for publication, as it has already been published, it does, on a technicality, have too many new magic items (albeit it still very conservative extrapolations) and too many new monsters. I’ll have to think about this one.  

If you have a hankering for extremely well executed vanilla B/X though, probably consider checking it out here.

I shudder at alternate timeline where Matthew Evans was an AD&D Gary-Gygax Style GM or where he discovers that you can add NPC interactions and faction play and shit. This was one hell of a ride.

24 thoughts on “No Artpunk Entry #7; The Valley of Karaccia

  1. This seems like a near-perfect First Time Playing D&D Module. That’s good and also…hopefully limited? I’ve introduced, hell, hundreds of people to the TTRPG hobby, and a table full of pure newbies actually does kind of need a level of generic. The things I want in an adventure and you want in an adventure become literally too much for the pure-newbie table, sometimes you just need to learn how to slay kobolds.

    That being said, there’s a time to put aside childish things. Any new player mixing with experienced players, or even a new crop that are familiar with computer RPGs, really need more interaction and “stuff to do”. My experienced players would be making dice towers at some point in this one it looks like.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would not neccesarily have that take. Its exceptionally solid dungeoncrawling D&D, but its primitive compared to other work. I think the craftmanship of it would hold up, even for a more seasoned audience, although there would be some minor eye-rolling at some of the BECMI-isms.


  2. Oh, man. You use the term B/X when you mean BECMI (the Mentzer version of B/X). The RC is based off BECMI (along with its later *barf* Gaz-influenced non-weapon skills)…enough so that they might be considered near twins, the former lacking only Mentzer’s indulgent (if amazingly weird) Immortal rules.

    Please don’t get your BECMI/RC chocolate in my B/X peanut butter.

    [you may beg to differ on the differences between the two. I warn you I did about a decade of analysis exploring the differences…tonally and rule-wise…between the two on my blog]

    Having got THAT off my chest…

    This sounds pretty good considering the edition it was written for…better in a few areas even. It would also seem to be a clear violation of the ground rules, though NOT because it was pre-published (and that’s a nice bit of cover…dig an armored elf for a change!). Rather, it’s the multiple use of variant items and creatures…some of us refrained from “tarting up” the book stuff, when we could have easily added a spell-throwing undead or unusually bonus’d magic item.

    However, it is (of course) YOUR contest, Prince. And I am (probably) just butt-hurt about your lackadaisical use of the term “B/X.” Makes me all grumpy and whatnot.

    Ghoul priestesses are awesome, just by the way. Sounds like a real man-eater!
    ; )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah I guess I inadvertently colonized B/X with my RC BECMI actual plays. Whoops.

      I’m not happy about the NWPs to be honest. I know they can work and add value, like they do in ACKS, but the BECMI take on them was very lacklustre.


      1. @ Squeen:

        I’ve never written a definitive article outlining the differences between B/X, BECMI, and Allston’s RC…it’s spread out over countless posts and comment sections. Unfortunate, really; should probably get around to compiling something. Here are a couple-few that talk about specific mechanical differences:
        [discusses differences between magic-users in B/X and BECMI]
        [discusses differences between clerics in B/X and BECMI]
        [towards the end, discusses briefly a major difference in how XP is awarded from B/X to BECMI]
        [some discussions on the difference between the editions regarding nobility/domain rulers, specifically re gaining XP for income, as created with the advent of Mentzer’s Companion book]
        [a series of A-Z posts from April 2019 discussing ways Karameikos, as originally written in B/X, was overhauled by Mentzer (in his Expert set) and Allston (in his RC-era Gazetteers). Much of this is a change in tonal resonance with the “new direction” basic D&D took post-1983. But some of the changes are striking. Also see the following articles on Karameikos and their implications:]

        There are more differences than just “presentation” between B/X and BE. Some of these occur because of later changes (like Mentzer’s Companion rules nerfing all the thief skills due to the need to have them scale from 1-36), but many of them are “up front,” right from his first set of red booklets.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I always have a viscerally negative reaction whenever I see a hook in a module that “the PCs are hired by [NPC] and offered a reward of [some usually trivial amount of GP] to go to the adventure site and rescue/recover [macguffin].” I know as a DM it’s my prerogative to ignore that and use some other hook, but it still leaves a lingering bad taste in my mouth and makes me suspicious of everything that follows (since if the author botched the setup who knows what else they did wrong, but it’s probably a lot). My PCs don’t have bosses and don’t go on fetch-quests for minor rewards (unless forced to in order to pay for training from the guild or because they were hit with a Quest spell or something), they’re self-motivated independent free agents who proactively collect and follow rumors of treasure. IMO that should be the setup for almost every D&D adventure – you’ve heard that there’s treasure in this place and have come to find and take it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a framing issue I think. Having the PCs contacted by the representatives of some shadowy aristocrat who bribes or threatens them to fetch an object he desires, with likely treachery or omitted information, can work reasonably well. I’ll agree that agency is very important, which is why I should start working on turning the AoD into a workable Sand Box. (although technically they are in the Glass Wastes, a literal Sandbox). There is something magical about writing something up, plunking it down somewhere and tell everyone ‘everyone who goes here DIES’ and then waiting until they decide to risk it.


  4. Good point about the failure to make settlements distinctive. One of the (many) merits of Melan’s Baklin is that public executions are carried out by sealing the miscreant in a sack and beating them to death with sticks, that is getting “The Sack”. Perhaps public hangings could be a spectacle along the lines of those in the film “Hang ‘Em High”.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Right? I noticed the change when I transported my PCs to Iotha in the AoD (jesus I am behind with the f-ing playreports). All it takes is a public impalement, the ululating prayers of holy men and a Sial-Atun backhanding you in the face for not understanding his language (Everyone speaks Sybarran, Thyatian derived Common is only spoken by the distant descendants of the Elephant in the Porcelain Cubbard monastary) and failing to show proper deference and suddenly everyone pays attention.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This just made my morning! I’m completely floored right now, seriously. 😀 I’m really glad you dug it.

    BTW, there are technically no new monsters in this… Anything that isn’t in the RC is in the Creature Catalogue. Some may have slightly different names (Amber Iris instead of Amber Lotus, for example) to avoid any IP infringement, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The creatures are a good point to bring up, so I will absolutely remember that when it becomes judgement time. I remember a few creatures from the catalog, like the undead fish and the thing that throws green balls, or the hooded thing that summons spirits of itself, and maybe some sort of dust devil but that’s about it.

      A worthy entry for this contest of champions.


      1. BTW…

        “I shudder at alternate timeline where Matthew Evans was an AD&D Gary-Gygax Style GM or where he discovers that you can add NPC interactions and faction play and shit. This was one hell of a ride”

        RC2 is gonna fuck you up, then. 😉 I’ll be sure and send you a copy when it’s done, which should only be another week or two hopefully.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. RC2

        Sign me up. It might be a while. I still have an OSE version of The Highlands, 5e Six Faces of Death, some Xoth publishing stuff, Broken Castle, Xyntillian, two volumes of Zarrchov Kowolski jesus christ I have a lot of stuff to review.

        Liked by 2 people


    Bryce has a recent comments sidebar on his blog I find this critical to encourage discussion past the new post up old article conversation dies.

    Your writing deserves the discussion that this comments sidebar supports.

    Thank you for your work on this

    Liked by 5 people

  7. I actually have this (from before the contest), and it may be *the* perfect BECMI-style module. The simulacrum is so perfect it has a 5:6 surprise chance. It is so opposed to my aesthetics and preferred approach that I found it grating, but for what it tries to do, it is very well constructed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha, this may be one of my favorite bits of review ever. Thanks man! Sorry you don’t dig the format, but hopefully you found something use from it to steal for your game. 🙂


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