The Valley of Karaccia
Matthew Evans (Mithgarthr Entertainment)
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!
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.
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.
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.