No Sun For A Wicked Moon (2019)
Unbalanced Dice Games
Absolutely nutso. So far we’ve scratched the surface of the enigma, the mystic OSR hermit known only as Unbalanced Dice Games. The adventures have all been quirky, strangely imaginative, oddly compelling and undeniably functional. We shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘OK. That was pretty cool. Now what?’ But little did we know that we had only witnessed him in his first form. UDG can reach soaring heights that men were not aware of. Today we tackle what is assumed to be his magnum opus.
297 pages, an absurd number reserved for megadungeons, campaign settings and Pathfinder class option supplements, barely enough to contain the demented imagination of UDG, comparable to an Axecop overdosing on methamphetamine and sugar. There is no padding, no tricks of layout, no fucking bullet points. 7 pages of introduction and then 305 rooms divided across 6 levels in a strange stalactite like organization and a progression that is as nuts as the rest of the work. The entire fucking thing is populated by unique creatures.
No Sun For A Wicked Moon follows in the wake of Woonder Well and has the feel and trappings of the last act of a final fantasy RPG as envisioned by a troubled 8 year old. The very moon itself is covered in the triple symbols of Pucka-Cruck (Shark, Schorpion & Snake), and all who gaze upon it know his power. The Moon goddess herself appears before the characters, battered and scarred, and begs the characters for aid. For once, the divine powers are actually as generous as their seemingly limitless power and dire predicament would imply, and the PCs are given a cockgargling 1000 gp to equip themselves for this herculean effort. Their mission; to banish the awful structure of the Shaymbol, a sort of fortress made from tangible darkness, upon the Moon by healing the rip in reality at its heart, and killing its two demon-like commanders Lady Sun-no and Lord Krall. Yes it is for mid-level, but the type of mid-level adventure that throws around Rods of Ressurection, divine intervention, showdowns with petty godlings and dimensional invaders like it is going out of style!
I say it feels epic and this is in part due to the total commitment of the party. Once they get to the moon, the party cannot depart until this herculean objective is completed. Their food and ammunition will be replenished by the Dwarves of the Lost Moon, and resting in the desolate green wilderness of the Moon is certainly feasible (only 1 in 4 chance of an encounter every 8 hours), but there is no town, no convenient healer with Raise Dead or Remove Curse (although the Moon goddess herself will lend aid if the PCs linger too long), no Sages or ready sources of expendable henchmen. All this will have to be won by sword and sorcery from the twisted tentacles and razor sharp claws of minions of Pucka-Cruck. I would have enjoyed a paragraph on the awarding of XP for gold in such a place, but perhaps gold is awarded the moment the PCs retrieve the treasure from the Shaymbol.
It is the long-term depletion of resources that I am probably the most skeptical about. In theory the Shaymbol is pervaded by the evil presence of Puck-a-Cruck, and this is properly represented by a 1 in 4 chance for every character each day they must succeed at a saving throw or gain a Seduction point. If the character gets 5 seduction points, he sneaks off to prostrate himself before Lady Sun-no as a loyal servant of Puck-a-Cruck. Points can be removed with some uncertainty at the cost of a Cleric’s complete complement of spells for that day, but the almost infinitely replenishable resources imply that it is simply easier to take a day off and purge everyone of Seduction points before venturing into the Shaymbol once more, fully healed. There might be a problem with light sources but at Mid Level (4-6) and in a dungeon where magical light is fairly abundant considering it is the solution to some puzzles and closed doors depletion is not likely to be an issue for long. With the exception of some temporary blessings or alliances with NPCs, there are not many incentives to prevent you from taking your sweet time completing the Shaymbol. The fact a random (1 in 20) encounter with the goddess can cause people with Seduction points to become not only healed but immune from future attempts is all the more puzzling.
The Shaymbol proper is structurally very interesting. The top level is massive, encompassing 126 rooms, spread over 6 connected maps, and separated by all manner of strange barriers, concealed doors or guarded passageways. The interesting feature here is that theoretically, all 3 main objectives, the reality rift, Lord Kran, and Lady Sun-no are all located on the first floor. The five floors below it are optional, at times very dangerous, but also very generous with their treasure. No one tells you this at first, although the PCs, if they keep descending, will at some point get warnings from the goddess that their objective does not lie in this direction. But there is nothing preventing you from continuing your delve and in many ways, doing so is highly recommended since Lady Sun-No is extremely formidable, and throughout your descent, you will encounter ways of gaining an advantage or limiting that power, separate from the magical treasure that is encountered. The lower 6th level can only be accessed via a magic item, which allows one to teleport into its starting area and back whenever one desires, which is immediate, since the 6th level is a nightmare.
The normal cryptic-solipsistic-but-internally-consistent format has been blown up to ludicrous proportions where you are constantly bombarded with new monsters and custom magic items in a way that is probably wonderful although it will keep you begging for a sage. The bizarre thing is that all of it is fully integrated with DnD and seems like an extension of it a.k.a. the author actually plays DnD. Take for example the batshit insane 3 HD Monk of Pucka-Cruck, a faceless horror with stretching dalsim-like punches that if they hit the player cause another Monk to hit automatically. Ah! But what if I told you that if you cast sleep on it, an energy form will rise from his prone body and continue the assault with the same HP and a better AC until either the physical shape or the energy form is destroyed. Brilliant. Chef’s Kiss.
Structurally the adventure is a brobdignagian version of UDGs normal modus operandi. Bizarre navigational hazards like a room filled with Shark Fins or a chamber that is an airless void are interspersed with puzzle-like objectives that require associative logic or experimentation to bypass (these are seldom so hard as to cause roadblocks) seasoned with brutal combats (using a newly found fondness for orders of battle or reinforcements) with bizarre entities. The puzzles are never particularly obtuse, and only when rare storehouses of treasure are on the line does UDG crank up the difficulty to the point where slower, more dopamine starved parties will start missing entries. There’s gotcha tricks too. A fake heart of the Shaymbol, whose destruction will trick the players into thinking they have ended the menace, only to have the goddess re-appear when they have returned to their homeworld, complaining that the evil is yet to perish. There is a bewildering variety of objectives, little quests, tiny loops of interacting NPCs that keeps the PCs on their toes, interspersed with a lot of chopping, particularly in the lower levels.
The objectives proper function in a similar trifold fashion. The Rip in reality can only be closed by a tiny piece of reality, which is held elsewhere, but handling it will cause the destruction of anyone attempting to do so. A special means of handling this object will have to be found. How do you discover this? There are special encounters that provide this information but characters might get farther by utilizing one of the items, Olgo’s Head, to get (percentage accurate) answers to any of 3 questions, which is probably one of the most useful items in the entire fucking fortress.
The great size of the Dungeon is utilized to introduce another factor; a veritable menagerie of henchmen, potential allies, prisoners and other ne’erdowells to ally with in your epic slogdown through hundreds of weird enemies. Cyclopean Dwarves, the hunting mice men, dissident minions of Pucka-Cruck. The list continues. My personal favorite is the stone dog Three Fingers, a sort of adorable Off-brand Atreyu that can be freed on the 5th level if his three stone fingers can be recovered, and who can be utilized every 3 days in a month, and unleashed 1/week like an FF summon spell from thereon out. They are also not always friendly, like the Moon Giant that will aid the party until they encounter another Moon Giant, after which an inevitable betrayal will occur. Manifold megadungeon tricks, like a ruined shrine to the Moon Goddess that can be restored to provide succor and healing for a week, are employed in a dazzling tour de force.
Combat is a bit on the heavy side, probably moreso then in something like the G series, where some measure of stealth and initial guile is rewarded, but not unusually so for a high level adventure. While there is clearly some rivalry between Sun-no and Kran and this can be exploited on certain rare occasions, ultimately it is a matter of the minions of Puck-A-Cruck versus the PCs and their scattered allies (Dwarfs of the Lost Moon, Mice-Hopper Men, occasional appearances of the goddess and a menagerie of bizarre NPCs that are all enveloped in the strange, semi-mythical designs of Pucka-Cruck). There are of course ample opportunities to bypass combat, by fleeing, paying a toll, performing a certain action and so on. Plentiful varieties, like ambushes, or later reinforcements, are of course introduced.
The menagerie of No Sun For A Wicked Moon is almost inexhaustible and strikes an odd-chord, the imagination of a child tempered by the bloody-minded ferocity of a seasoned killer GM. Many armed dimensional raiders filing through a gate in reality (can be closed as a sub-objective, thereby making the dungeon easier), Anthropomorphic sharks teeth with poisoned halberds, the priests of Sun-No and Puck-a-cruck, each with unique spells, Moon-shadows that attempt to merge with the PCs, Bloated Moon giants that spit tiny moons at the party, the insect-like demi-god Negat who never was, animate stones that spit corrosive bubbles, scorpion snakes, men with the attributes of sharks, scorpions or snakes. That is the first level. Every level below it has separate unique monsters in addition to the ones listed above. Complete and utter bugfuck insanity that never abates. Poison use is above average, begging the question whether or not Neutralize Poison should be part of the PC’s repertoire, something the five potions of Neutralize poison maybe hint at. Exactly how hard No Sun For A Wicked Moon is remains difficult to glean, the random Divine Interventions should give the party quite a bit of endurance.
So many weird, interesting choices and I am only scratching the surface. Proper conclusion; Lady Sun-no is inside her own star-shaped demi-plane so if you walk into it you are locked into the combat, potentially setting yourself up for a total party kill (or an eternity of floating in interstitial space in suspended animation) which presumably cannot be undone by Divine aid, but then for each 10 damage you inflict on her a gateway opens allowing one character to escape the Star-plane, and if you open three gates concurrently the goddess helps, and Sun-No herself summons minions, it’s a big fucking sweaty chonker of a boss fight and its perfect. THAT’S how you end something like this. With POMP. With GUSTO.
There are absolutely drawbacks and it will not be for everyone. It might be too weird for some, that’s perfectly fine. The resource management bit feels a bit hand-wavey. There’s no factions proper, although there are plentiful NPC henchmen to recruit on your way through this nightmare hellhole. The scale is certainly off, in the sense that world-altering events are generally tackled by characters that are a bit higher in level. But the fundamentals are here. There is a complex self-consistent reality, mastery of which is required in order to persevere. There are secrets to be learned, terrors to be discovered, allies to be made. Rich, endless variety, not a random grab-bag of individual encounters, but differently themed levels, adversaries, magical items both unique and classic, manifold hazards and all of it intricately connected.
Are you an Artpunkman? Are you worried about appearing discerning without actually wanting to put any effort into developing proper discernment? Do you have an iron man suit in the colors of the ukranian flag tattooed over your heart? Do you miss not having a proper Artpunk megadungeon? Give this badboy a try. It’s outsider art, it’s exclusive, it’s obscure (for now), there’s a complicated menagerie of autistic characters contributing to the story, you can use the environment against your opponents, you can set your level of immersion but in a way understanding the dungeon is vital to its resolution, it’s damn stonking good actually and challenging without being so gut-bustingly difficult only veteran DnD players can even attempt it. It is done without pretension or frustrated novelist, the true ideal of the module cobbler.
It absolutely does not have bullet points and skimming the room entries during play might be a bit taxing. Overlapping effects are mentioned in the preface but keeping track of the various things going on might be a bit taxing and I pray to the Lord that UDG learns how to put the number of the room key besides the title of a room he is referring to. None of this is dealbreaking. This must have cost an astounding amount of work, all of it channelled into that highest aspiration; DnD as a game. Yeah at level 4-6 (or whatever range MID is) you go to the moon and save a moon-goddess from the semi-divine minions of a nebulous extra-dimensional evil. What the fuck did you do last saturday?
You have been permitted to bear witness to the culmination of one man’s dream. Weirdo outsider DnD has a King, and his name is UDG.
8 thoughts on “[Review] No Sun For A Wicked Moon (LL); Schizoid Magnum Opus”
Where the hell does one get this? It sounds utterly fantastic!
I must (still) not entirely understand the whole “artpunk” thing, since I equate that movement with more style over substance….whereas UDG (at least this offering) seems to have plenty of substance. Just weird substance.
Which, BTW is a good thing when dealing with extra-planar (or off-Earth) missions of epic proportion. While I agree that such adventures should (generally) be the purview of high level PCs…and I don’t see much in your review that would indicate L10+ characters wouldn’t be properly challenged by a removal from their home base (one of the marks of high level attrition adventures)…it is possible UDG is setting up an epic-scale adventure wherein “mid-level” PCs advance to “high” prior to the final confrontation. Maybe. I wouldn’t presume to know the workings of the dude’s mind.
Fun fact: when I was living in Paraguay for three years, I started working on a Holmes Basic clone that revolves entirely around a fairytale plot to save the Moon, who had been imprisoned in a dark Underworld. The idea was to give adventurers, even from level 1, some sort of context and raison d’etre and provide the inherent setting with some scope. This sounds much more clever.
Where can we pick up a copy of this? Is it expressly for Labyrinth Lord? It looks a little Sword & Wizardry-y.
15second search via google:
$6 on DTRPG which is a stupid steal
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Right on. You saved me 15 seconds!
If we take Mid Level literally, it should be the 2nd 1/3 of the level scope, which is 1-20 in Labyrinth Lord. So it might mean something between 8 and 14.
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A glance at the hit dice of most monsters and the comparative difficulty of Eructation of the Goblin Troll says, unlikely. 4-7 is the range I think. Bosses with 9 – 10 HD at the summit. Most monsters in the 1-5 HD range.
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My great DM used to produce endless adventure locations like this. His creative well seemed bottomless, and yes, everything was a bit off-kilter…but in a thoughtful, intelligently playful way.
This is OD&D as it blossomed in the 70’s. Just turn off the internet and all the thousand voices telling you how to play D&D and dig deep. If you’ve got the magic in you, this type of thing is what comes out.
Nice one Prince. Hope you get to play this or something similar. It may be the antithesis of a “metal” ascetic, but in a truly wonderful, play-able way. We never got bored of it, life just overwhelmed.
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You are a fount of good intent. I mean this sincerely.