[Review] Peril in Olden Wood (OSE); Old Powers

Peril in Olden Wood (2022)

Ray Weidner (Merciless Merchants)
Lvl 3 – 5

Disclaimer: Sponsored Content, Content partner

Against the Donation Cue continues. Ray is a frequent commenter on this blog, featured previously for his earlier very strong (albeit somewhat unwieldy) The Magician’s House, and is an overal standup guy. He teamed up with my publisher, the incomparable Malrex, to produce what I hope will become a standout entry in the OSE line-up. Please disregard any effusive praise and gushing r.e. the quality of his contribution as the result of unbridled nepotism and cynical self-interest.

Peril in Olden Wood is a great evocation of Davis, Gallagher, Priestley-era Warhammer Fantasy and TSR UK entries like B10. It seamlessly weds a sort of pagan, folkloric take on Warhammer Fantasy with the tactical maturity of an AD&D scenario. It feels polished, the verbiage has been trimmed down (although it is still quite girthy at 91 pages) and the scenario hits with all the power of a blood-splattered great mace in the shape of an eight-pointed star.

The once prosperous Olden Wood has slowly fallen into obscurity. The Crusaders that liberated it from Chaos are long gone, and the wilderness is creeping back. A band of Kobold, the unspeakably vile Bone Eaters, have taken up residence in the abandoned ruins of Fort Hope, and with the help of a nightmarish artifact called the Twilight Altar, begin terrorizing the region with the help of their goblin slaves and hordes of re-animated corpses. Enter the PCs.

Candy colored Hexmap

This barely scratches the surface. There are a shittonne of things going on in the tiny region. A bridge troll is fucking up traffic. A group of faeries have kidnapped some children in the hopes of getting the village of Bridgeham to re-institute the old pagan festivals. The trickster god Morham, turned bitter by the loss of his church, spreads chaos and death through his remaining followers. The local priest and some wench are having an affair. A village of unscrupulous evil gypsy-like bandits are preying on ships. Anyone making fires in the forest risks dealing with the semi-feral Druid and his tame bear Smokey. The list goes on and on.

There is a maturity and craftsmanship to the scenario that is admirable. There is not a hint of minimalism to be found. You want hooks? asks Olden Wood. Here is 10 fucking quests. You want to deal with the Kobolds? You want to investigate the ruined village instead? Here is a list of factions. Here is an overview of all the shit going on so you don’t get lost. Here is a short explanation of the relationship between the New Faith (crystal dragon christianity), The Old Faith (decidedly germanic paganism) and the worshippers of Morham, Bringer of Merriment. Prose is ornate, but is partitioned well. Room keys are fairly easy to scan, while the more atmospheric fluff tends to be relegated to the front. Very good. Statt blocks get cheat sheets. Someone wanted to get an A+ in the Tenfootpole utility school.

It is assumed that the adventure is taking place in the spring or summer. In these seasons, Olden Wood is abundantly green, overgrown with wide trunks of oaks, elms, ashes, willows, pines and spruces, as well as dense clusters of thistle and undergrowth. The forest floor is covered in dead leaves and perpetual shadow, and at night it is pitch black under the hanging boughs. The Imperial Road is in grave disrepair, ruptured by saplings and tufts of grass, while the trails threaten to vanish completely. The Olden Wood is on the verge of being reclaimed by wilderness.

The forest proper feels folkloric, in a blood-drenched pagan way. Animals attack but making an offering of blood to the druid allows safe passage. A witch lives outside the village and is a good source of both information and potions but woe to you if you stay the night. The bridge troll will allow passage if you give him a goat, halfling or ‘fill his hat with gold’ and the hat turns out to be a type of bag of holding. If you can’t pay he canes you viciously before sending you on your way. You fight the mummified corpse of a barbarian chieftain in an ancient barrow mound. YEAH! This does not extend to mere surface level mimicry. Encounters are mature, and can be tackled in different ways. Consider the case of the Wraith in the ruined village, shaped like a terrifying black Knight. That alone would have sufficed for many. But then there are the jars of remains in the vaults under the temple where he remains, one of which will shatter if he is destroyed, prompting his rebirth. His treasure is cursed. There’s a young girl in the village, easily startled. If approached carefully, she will regale the hideous fate of the village, before she begins weeping blood and fading away. Save or flee in terror, and age prematurely. Hell yes! What about the festive hall of festivius, where the PCs are seated and if they partake of the meal, must save or be unwilling to leave the halls. People could have left it at that, but then Festivius, the pagan god, will offer to release any PCs if they attempt to reinstitute the pagan rites in Bridgeham. If refused or threatened he and his hall will vanish, taking with him any affected PCs. Perfect!

The village of Bridgeham is similarly mature, reminiscent of a trimmed down, sleeker Hommlet. An extensive rumor table, delicate, is presented. Consider the following rumor:

Beware Old Brute, the serpent of Lake Saison. Ragnar the Gold boasted that he would slay the
creature, but he never returned. (True; see Lake Saison (8) on p. 41)

And if the PCs follow that rumor and can survive Old Brute (who is quite fucking formidable, thank you very much), what do they do then? There’s no treasure…or is there? Cutting open the beast reveals the plate+1 of Ragnar the Gold. Hell yes!

NPCs are fully fleshed out in a low-key, rugged, slightly degenerate manner. It feels forlorn. The tanner that asks all sorts of creepy questions about what the PCs have killed. The openly pagan smith that won’t sell to dwarves. The seemingly friendly Reeve who subtly interrogates the PCs. The asshole spy from the village of wreckers. There’s hidden caches of treasure sprinkled throughout the village, which is excellent and it gives thieves and people that memorize Charm Person something to do, but in a manner that seems more deliberate and less exhaustive then in T1. You can find the hidden correspondence between the priest and the innkeeper’s daughter detailing their secret dalliance for example, which might be instrumental in convincing him to allow the village to perform the pagan rites.

Fort Hope proper brings a tear to my eye. Multiple approaches. Multiple entrances into the dungeon. Guard schedules by day and by night. Prisoners to free. Careful exploration is rewarded, foolhardy attacks are punished. An order of battle in case the PCs get into a pitched battle, with different groups of Kobolds taking up different positions. Extensive notes on what to do if the Kobolds suffer extensive losses or are aware the attack is coming. This combined with what are probably the scariest, most degenerate Kobolds I have seen in living memory. Faces painted with chalk, weapons coated with anti-coagulant poisons, they are generally up to all sorts of unwholesome and barbaric acts if the PCs come upon them when they are not aware. A shaman dressed in a cloak of human skin leads a small group of ‘wide-eyed naked fanatics.’ The chieftain has prisoners fed to giant leeches, and, well…this.

A massive bed with thick posts dominates the room and battered furniture lines the walls. One zombie tunelessly plays a harp while another batters a drum, and two other zombies, one of which wears a flamboyant red velvet hat, engage in a shambling dance. Upon the bed, the kobold chieftain, attired in fine mail and wearing a gem-studded crown and bronze medallion, is doing unspeakable things with yet another zombie

A small tribe of goblins is kept in thrall to them and will turn at the earliest opportunity. I think a minor error on the courtyard does not mark the well that can be used as a dangerous means of gaining egress to the Catacombs immediately.

The map proper is elaborate, connected by a wraparound of secret passageways which can be entered at multiple points. A text recovered from the malicious termagants hints at the existence of these hidden tunnels, even if the PCs do not think to interrogate any prisoners. Exposition and flavor is gracefully integrated into this mix. Lots of allusions and the odd unobtrusive diary entry. It should come as no surprise that the Kobolds are merely perching on a much greater evil below. Locked behind several seals of Law, the lower catacombs hold the far more powerful Midnight Altar, and serve as a sort of hellmouth for the influence of Chaos to pour through. I am getting a minor inkling of WG4. An assault on a humanoid lair featuring a complicated order of battle, with a secret lower level holding much greater horrors in store? Evil that sleeps but never dies.

Second level turns up the spook factor to 11, and before you know it you are fighting the ghoulish remains of ancient templars, getting possessed by the ghost of one of their victims to enact a hideous revenge, trying to murder a giant demonic stone face which is actually just a repurposed mimic though the party will never know, parleying with the Ghast Priest Zahariel who seeks a way for himself and his nightmarish flock to break the seals of their imprisonment, ally with terrified kobold patrols and face down various demoniac artifacts. All this to the Gygaxian tune of excellent treasure placement and amount, properly telegraphed and occasionally vicious traps. A list of possible repercussions for various ends to the scenario, expanded wilderness travel rules and some rapid chargen procedures for characters of levels 3-5 round off what is an absolute tour de force for the Merciless Merchants.

Peril in Olden Wood is GREAT classic fauxhammer D&D. The Moorcock has been dialled down and the folklore has been amped up HARD, accompanied by the glorious Artwork of Arthur Rackham. It hits all the right atmospheric notes while keeping its nose firmly fixed on the CORE of oldschool D&D gameplay. Flourishes like the encounter with diminished pagan gods and faction play are added to this solid foundation to create something that I suspect plays every bit as well as it reads. Perilous, fae, dark, treacherous, elevated by occasional bursts of levity, and not a hint of the gentrification that has crept into some of the would be inheritors of the Throne of Grimness & Darkness. Don’t let the OSE label frighten you, this is TRVE dnd.

Here. Treasure. Short, punchy writing, making everything come alive.

There is a dedication in the back of the work to the editing skills of the great Malrex, an apologia for occasional bouts of verbosity (feeling a bit self-conscious are we?), a welcome thanks to the playtesters and a shoutout to none other then yours truly and the No Artpunk Contest, for inspiring the creation of an adventure that does indeed have only 1 new magic item (the awesome Chariot of Night) and 1 new monster (the Ghast Priest!). Although it would have been far too large to qualify for competition, if this size restriction had not existed it would have easily been included in the volume.

Peril in Olden Wood has simple presentation and requires some time to assimilate though to its credit it provides ample cheatsheets and overviews to aid any prospective GM in running it. This in no way diminishes the power and potency of the adventure. 91 pages, of which a good 70 compose the adventure proper, is on the girthy side, but this is a result of semi-obsessive craftsmanship and thoroughness, not bloated paragraphs. Does red blood pump yet through your veins, son of man? Do you desire adventure in the forgotten corners of the Empire? Where Law has long passed and Chaos waxes yet again?

Highly, highly recommended for fans anywhere near Warhammer Fantasy and folkloric DnD, and a great example of a lair assault adventure with an expanded wilderness section. Check it out here.


8 thoughts on “[Review] Peril in Olden Wood (OSE); Old Powers

  1. I’m truly overwhelmed by such high praise! I was hoping for kind words, but my expectations were greatly exceeded.

    Interesting point about the well entrance. Leaving it out of the map for the Ruined Fort was not an oversight, but I can see how that would work, too. The idea behind the well only being available in the Underfort is that this lower level was intended as a fallback where the Templars could hold out against a successful siege of the fort, so they would need a distinct water supply. So it probably wouldn’t make sense to have the same well available topside.

    However, it would make sense for there to be another well on the surface that taps into the same underground river. So that definitely was a missed opportunity. There will be some forthcoming updates to fix some errata that I’ve spotted, so I’ll probably add that.

    By the way, that particular entrance is meant to be nearly unusable since the underground river would be dangerous to swim in (it’s very cold, plus armor). However, if the party happens to obtain the swan boat Feather Token from the faeries, it’s a lot more feasible…


  2. A very strong adventure. Is it like the works of the TSR UK Team (Morris et al) or of the unsettling faerie world of Blackapple Brugh, some Zzarchov Kowolski adventures, Dolmenwood and Daniel Bishop? The former does sometimes have a Celtic/pagan myth theme (and there were Historians in their ranks); maybe UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave showcases this best. But the alien quality of “things stirring in the woods” and twisted fairy tale sits more in the latter camp. A big plus of this adventure is that it has its roots firmly in classic TSR D+D, with dungeons that require exploring. Mighty company in either case.
    There was a post on the Monsters and Manuals site about Rackham Vale, showcasing work of Arthur Rackham and adding some random tables and outlining some possibilities. It seemed to suggest nice art, but where is the adventure? Well, I consider that answered by this module. Maybe it is even Artpunk as it should have been?
    Loved the Gygaxian closing “Thus ends the Peril in Olden Wood”. A bit of pedantry: “Afterword” for the closing comments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, by the way, UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave is a personal favorite. It was very influential for me when it comes to adapting faerie and pagan themes to FRPG.


  3. For those OSE fans frustrated by a lack of adventures over level 5, I encourage you to check out Rosethrone Publishing adventures. They have a reasonably close feel to me as compared to the default OSE setting, and have a few past that level plateau that have been given good reviews by Bryce L. They are “written for Swords & Wizards in the Highlands, a Swords & Wizards Rules Variant”:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s