Eructation of the Goblin Troll (2017)
Unbalanced Dice Games
Unbalanced Dice Games is an unknown author who creates strange, compelling, genuinely original works of D&D, far from the light of Appendix N, devoid of ostentation, conversational description, with crude hand-drawn art, and the results are often good, always fascinating, and this entry is no exception.
The door to the inn fell to the floor and it walked in. A big green man like thing with a large sharp
teethed mouth, long arms and horns sticking out of its cheeks. “Pour the blurf in or I pour your blood in” it yelled with a guttural roar. The innkeeper, Blurf, pointed at it and gasped “The Goblin Troll..”. He
pushed a wooden cart up to it and the Goblin Troll sat down. Around the room the innkeeper pushed it and everyone poured their drink down one of its horns.
“Drink drink drink, I get the good drink…” it muttered as it went around the room. The innkeeper pushed it to the door after everyone had served the Goblin Troll. Out the door and into the night the creature went. Its belches could be heard miles away as it ran back to its lair. Blurf had never seen the Goblin Troll before. He remembered his mother telling him that it must be killed if it ever returned. Mom usually was
right. Word spread of the Goblin Troll and people stopped going to the inn. Blurf decided it was time to hire some adventurers
That sounds like the most half-baked premise for an adventure right? You’d expect the rest of the adventure to be an inept trot through some semi-literate domain followed by a dissapointing smackdown to rid the world of yet another imbecilic homebrow’s get but the reality is far more compelling. Eructation of the Goblin Troll is channeling some sort of pre-Tolkinian Fairy-tale vibe and feels like the lair of IT, Freddy Krueger or the Stealer of Children. It has all the Unbalanced Dice Games trappings, the wonky physics, the good but slightly deranged map, the weird encounters but here they invoke not laughter but a type of surreal horror, like you are children confronting a story-book monster. The monster, and the lair below, is themed strongly, decay, vermin, mirrors, alcohol consumption, candy as though the dungeon is some living aesop fable about the dangers of alcoholism.
The fucking hook makes no sense for this level. The shopkeeper, who clearly shares some kinship with the Goblin troll that is never explained, offers a paltry 1 beer each and 99 gp if they kill it, and he will keep one GP for himself because without him they never would have found it. The way to an abandoned cabin is littered with evidence of the Goblin Trolls great strength; Dead animals, broken bottles, splintered trees etc. Thus begins an odyssey that is equal parts farce and horror show, intermingling in this twilight zone beyond the normal world.
Begin with a strong setpiece. In the abandoned cabin you must light a fire in the fireplace. While it burns, a stairway opens up into its underground lair. If the fire goes out, you are trapped. Fantastic set piece! Perhaps some procedure of how long it burns would have been helpful, but you can figure something out.
The map is insane like a fairy tale monster’s lair would be. Spirals, loops, branching nodes, making no logical sense. What passes for natural barriers are elastic walls, a big green devil face with a mouth that opens and closes every round, a room that is just an infinite pit, filled with layers of webbing or a hallway that seems to stretch on forever; Gygaxian naturalism and sanity are far away. These sorts of tricks are introduced rapidly in the beginning to cement the idea of a place with elastic reality. Teleportation traps or encounters that fuck with the corridors are introduced so there is a sense of disorientation and menace. Hallways are naked rock or piled stone, like you see in your mind’s eye. A burrow, not a true structure.
Organization is minimal, seldom reaching beyond the single room. Yet there is method to this madness. There are hints to be gained about the Goblin Troll’s true nature from what appear to be his demented parents. Surreal death is rare but present. There are the fairy-tale tricks, a bag with gold pieces hanging from the ceiling with a note ‘take the gold and leave my play rooms’ signed the troll. If you take them you wake up in the forest, and the entrance does not reappear. There’s a freezer where you can get frozen, it makes no logical sense but it’s like the hindbrain, gorged on horror movie cliches, expects the freezer to be there so it is there.
Monster encounters, including the random ones are, like everything else in this thing, demented. A bag of severed heads that look like the PCs, if one kills you he replaces your head with itself and you can keep playing but now you are evil. Goblins in diapers that throw razor-sharp paper airplanes. A wine elemental. You are followed by a giant green head. You see a chest full of gold coins but it turns out it is actually a troll and it attacks you. This menace is supplemented with surreal magical effects. Phantasms of the party come out of the wall, passageways that suddenly lead to different areas, illusionary liquid makes the party suspect the Troll is already dead, you see your party members as goblin zombies and they attack you, if you die it was just a dream but you lose a level. Rainbow slime makes you unable to carry weapons. As mentioned before, the irreality of the encounters is not comic here, but adds to the flavor of the place. Somehow the dungeon channels irrational childhood fears. What if suddenly I am lost? What if there is something under the bed? Many of the inhabitants talk but their desires are solipsistic, like Alice in Wonderland characters. These are possible source of information, but usually just death.
Somehow, I don’t know exactly how, this is more then a series of bizarre encounters. You can gain a few hints about the Goblin Troll’s abilities from big buttons or the nightmarish Lollipop fly that lairs elsewhere in the dungeon. Some encounters are just from an odd couple and have no purpose beyond giving cryptic hints. There’s even a weapon that can perma-kill the Goblin Troll. Like any childhood-boogey man, the Goblin Troll is otherwise immortal. It’s spirit will possess another Troll and it will mate with a Goblin and give birth to itself once again. This can take decades. When you confront the Goblin Troll it is covered in a pile of beer-bottles and effectively invulnerable until you figure out how to lure it out, again, evoking old monster-slaying myths. The creature is invulnerable unless you perform this one particular act to counteract it. The Hydra’s heads regenerate. Fafnir sprays poison wherever he goes but his belly is vulnerable. The Goblin Troll must be lured out from his pile with Beer and then slain. Gameplay and idea, coming together, and they act as one.
Magic items is all weird coatings over fully functional magic item stats. A shard of magic mirror functions as a +3 knife and reflects the Medusa’s gaze. A fly in a bottle can be swallowed to produce continual light on the character, and spit back into the bottle. Underwear that allows you to change sex. The dreaded Gauntlets of The Goblin Troll. The Hammer Smacker, which tries to crawl back to its master if unattended! Mundane treasure is very light and usually just gold pieces, but does it matter? Will you deny your characters the chance to adventure in a childhood nightmare?
The best OSR horror adventure is…probably the Inn of Lost Heroes? This is primitive but the atmosphere is strong. What do I use the *** bracket for? Good adventures. What do I use **** for? Exceptional. Something extra. The more I look at this the more I admire it. The ideas and the description, which is again deliberately conversational, eschewing either overly technical as well as overly aesthethic prose. Paragraphs can drag on so it is not easy to skimread but there is genuine creativity behind it. The ideas leap out. But they are integrated INTO THE FRAMEWORK OF D&D BY SOMEONE THAT CAN READ AND TAKES REGULAR SHOWERS. And it’s all behind absolutely zero ostentation.
**** stars. There’s something to this. It’s primitive but punchy and I suspect it holds together well. The sort of haphazard map, disorientation, teleportation and weirdo effects are likely to strengthen, rather then do away with, the module’s atmosphere. The **** tier is getting full, and I must bust down a few of the lesser entries. I shall do this come the New Year.
Unbalanced Dice Games has been silent for over a year. Wherever you are Unbalanced Dice Games, if you are out there, the OSR needs you now, moreso then ever.
6 thoughts on “[Review] Eructation of the Goblin Troll (LL); Nightmares From When We Were Young”
This sounds pretty darn amazing…perhaps the first Unbalanced Dice Games offering I’ve been tempted to purchase from your reviews. It sounds like his/her whimsical style has been more refined in this particular offering. It takes an exceptional mind to be incoherently coherent, a special (or inspiringly humble) talent to create the avant garde without pretension. A knack, if you will.
Personally, I’m too tightly wound to design like this. My daughter can (all this sounds very reminiscent of the adventures she creates)…but she is 7 and a half. She is also incredibly, unforgivingly stubborn about doing things her way. I try to teach her that it’s okay to accept help from others (rather than wait for things to blow up in her face)…but am I unwittingly curtailing her creativity? Neutering where I should be nurturing? The possibility feels me with some amount of dread.
And yet, as with Maze of the Blue Medusa, my feelings here are based entirely off a review. I have not read, run, or played this adventure. It *sounds* like it ties together in a more digestible fashion…but is that just overt bias on my part? A trick in the semantics of the reviewer? Would I feel differently if *I* reviewed the two works, side-by-side?
I am currently re-reading…and prepping…Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. It is fantastic, an under-appreciated gem. Truly, it is a mini-campaign in a singular module, doing more in fewer pages than UK2 and UK3 which (decoupled from their railroady bits) are still pretty good. And all the new monsters in S4 fall into that category of “creatures in the MM2 that don’t suck.” That is a high praise from Yours Truly, a geezer who doesn’t even like using the Unearthed Arcana, or anything more recent than the Fiend Folio.
Yes, I even like to cooshee.
For me, S4 is about as much “new material” as I need for my 1E game, the UA be damned. And, as such, I think I’d probably rate the thing 5*, and would be highly tempted to drop WG4 to 4*…in effect switching your ratings. That doesn’t solve your problem with the logjam in the 4* range; however, a cursory view shows at least a few “good” adventures that aren’t quite “exceptional” (I’d include most ‘un-finished’ modules, like B1, in that category…sorry Mike Carr!). And there’s at least one adventure that should probably be busted down from 4* to 2*…you know who you are!
“Dare Ye Enter My Magical Realm?”
Is there a whizzard too in this adventure?
I HAVE DONE IT READERS
I have in my possession evidence that Princeofnothing is indeed U Dice Games.
The proof is all around us, breadcrumbs and tidbits he was urging us to see. To realize the trail, how else could this be.
Now it is your time for the clues delcare a new chapter. Will you find the hidden pieces?
The timelines are unquestionably tight, we know what PoN will say in responce. The question is what will we?
Hah! I wish!