[Review] Temple of Lies (NGR/OSR); On Par

Temple of Lies (2016)

Zzarchov Kowolski
Lvl 1-2

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Another entry in the currently lamentably unavailable Kowolski Omnibus Vol 1., Temple of Lies took all of 4 days to produce and was part of the Lotfp Bundle of Holding charity drive. The adventure is seasoned lightly with S&S elements and involves a delve into a hidden temple under an opium den. If we discount the fact it has been produced in record time it is light work at 16-pages, just about acceptable. A cover, legible maps, and decent formatting and that’s all we need!

Premise does not fuck around. There is no complicated world building, it is assumed the GM will be able to grok the S&S flavor from the surrounding context (crowded city, slums, secrets) and the hook involves a kidnapping victim, either one close to the PCs or one off the street if they are heroic. The PCs presumably follow/track the person to an opium den in the bad part of the city. That’s kind of all you need in this case. Enter the PCs.

Some format fuckery going on, color coding is employed to differentiate obvious features, treasure, hidden dangers and obvious characters which is nice though not truly neccessary in an adventure this size. I expect the lengthy statt blocks in the back could have been included in the room descriptions with elaborations only for the unique creatures, of which there are not a great deal. Keying is legible, the map is without scale but has some nonlinear features that make exploring it somewhat interesting. I am reminded of an atmospherically stronger version of the White Dwarf adventure Tomb of the Maharadja.

Every encounter has a little niggling complication or something that makes it stand out. The opium den is under a tenement and the guards actually help catch rats so the locals will assist the one (heavily armed) guard by throwing rocks, chamber pots and booing if combat ensues. A second guard is hidden among the beggars in the alley. A good, mundane S&Sish encounter, I can feel the R.E. Howard generators spinning up. Curiously, there is the option of running the entire cult as ‘fake’, giving them no special powers whatsoever. An interesting idea, though the slight touches of supernaturalism make the Serpent cult much stronger.

Somehow in 14 rooms this is a more or less complete adventure that you are probably going to complete single segment. Calling the guards will probably be useless. Top floor is an opium den. One thing I am missing is some sort of organized routine. There is mention of raising the alarm; If the Guards inside hear the commotion outside, how do they react? You have some ‘civilian’ clerks walking around who will not die to stop a robbery (but will get help if the PCs find the way downstairs). Again, what form does this help take? Simple but good stuff: Atmosphere is good, grimy, underneath the floorboards of a tenement block, room full of addicts, braziers, silk curtains and sofas. Three hints that something is not right: The kidnap victim is not here, there are too many shoes in the cloakroom, the guards etc. are too well equipped and numerous for a simple opium den. Find the toilet, find the metal bracket, ignore the glory holes (yes really!) climb downstairs. The lack of rungs or a tunnel in the pit does strain credibility a bit but this is easily remedied. Don’t fall into the pit.

Bottom level now we are talking. 8 rooms, enough corridors so it feels like you are doing some exploring. Effective use of a single alarm trap under a crystalline arch might alert the complex, although lamentably preparations are not given much attention afterwards. Everyone is sexed up. You get yourself some naked serpent cult nuns in mail of silver and silk wielding poisoned whips (THATS what I am talking about), some guards with their tongues split wielding primitive blackpowder weapons firing a handful of pottery, snake sex cult graffiti, a reliquary whose floor is covered in fucking serpents holding magic items (providing a neat environmental obstacle), an evil high priest (who is in possession of a silver flute allowing him to charm serpents, but is not using this ability to either await the PCs in the reliquary if alarmed, or summon the Giant Python they are feeding the kidnapping victims too or alternatively is flinging handfuls of cobras at them, as he really should). The number of defenders is low, making it possible to complete the adventure in a single increment. There is a note that the kidnap victim is more likely to be dead if the PCs dally but no guidelines are given, this is another instance where I’d have preferred a little specificity.

There’s some cute treasure, a green rope that can contain even the supernatural, creepy wavy-bladed daggers, a cursed serpent-shaped clasp…ZZarchov knows the game very well, even with so few rooms every opportunity is taken to add spice, without DROWNING the whole or going overboard. Heirloom rings, silver tea services and assorted coins and chandeliers make up the rest of the treasure. Treasure is on the silver standard and is sort of in the vicinity for what is appropriate for a gold = xp game if the PCs are particularly thorough and cart off the Sofa’s and rob the place blind…which, yaknow. I would have enjoyed a bigger hoard at the end and would recommend the hidden treasure (again, treasure is hidden or difficult to reach, well done), which is only present if the high priest has no real powers, be made available any way.

Temple of Lies isn’t going to win any awards but it is actually fairly tight for what it is, a single-session encounter with a perfidious snake-cult, and manages to be both atmospheric, varied and challenging (5 HD python at lvl 1-2 is JUST right), even if the cult numbers are on the low side and it would benefit from a bit more organized resistance. There is a glut of micro-adventures like this nowadays and most of them end up being lazy shovelware but there is competence and control here that is nice to see, it’s like the process of adventuring is properly understood. The OSR conversion is fairly tight this time around, so no gripes there.

I have no problem giving this a light recommendation, especially given the price range. ***

PDF is here.

Bonus announcement: We are probably nearing the end of the No Artpunk Vol 1 charity drive. It is a genuinely superb collection of adventures for old D&D, meriting 3 Best ofs at Tenfootpole, and 1 No Regerts, and even better; IT’S FREE!. If you are interested in supporting the Autism Research Institute to which we are donating ALL THE PROCEEDS (after drivethru takes its pound of flesh), consider throwing some cash our way (or downloading it for free and donating directly, that might work too!). Don’t worry if you missed the collection before the deadline, it will just become free instead of PWYW.


11 thoughts on “[Review] Temple of Lies (NGR/OSR); On Par

  1. Ha ha ha, how topical!

    The reviews lately have all been way up my alley. Love this sinful S&S metropolis aura. That’s what I try to cultivate in my own game. This probably would’ve convinced me with just the cover art but I’ll definitely be picking it up after reading the review, jolly good!


  2. I’ve run this one for a 1 on 1 game using a rules lite system. This is a great module, one of the very few modules I would actually recommend people have in their repertoire. Funny to consider in light of its humble origins, perhaps that implies something.


  3. Anyone who likes this concept should check out The Brazen Bull, which I contributed to the three-piece “Rats in the Walls and Other Perils.”


    1. I can give a big thumbs up for the Brazen Bull. Chainsaw, I think there was something you were working on? Did it get published, or is it near to completion?


      1. Thanks, SW. Appreciate it.

        Yes, I was working on a big volcano-themed dungeon titled Lake of Fire, but real life interrupted, so it’s on the back burner for now.


      1. Hey man. Thanks!

        After I’d turned in the Atlantis manuscript, but before it was published in Nov 2019, Jeff wanted to revise and expand his original Rats in the Walls module. We thought three loosely connected urban adventures would be have a cool, episodic feel. So, I wrote The Brazen Bull and he wrote The Lamia’s Heart, then we published them together with the original Rats as Rats in the Walls and Other Perils in Feb 2019. They’re all pretty short, maybe 10-12 pages each. I thought it turned out well!


      2. Actually, now that I think about it, he’d already written Lamia’s Heart. Anyway, neither here nor there, really.


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