[Review] The Ghoul Prince (NGR); The Price of Innovation

The Ghoul Prince (2018)
Zzarchov Kowolski (DIY RPG Productions)

Lvl ??? (2-4?)

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Of the by now somewhat scornfully regarded mid-10s OSR DIY era, when Lotfp was king and the OSR was moving out of its imitative phase and into its in hindsight disastrous creative phase, one man stands head and shoulders above the peers of avant-garde DnD. Kowolski is the real deal, an adventure writer who eschews the traditional formats (dungeon, hexcrawl) but who has enough of a familiarity with the classics to innovate meaningfully without them. Combined with a relentless output, a self-deprecating wit and a willingness to get his hands dirty, and we have what is unquestionably one of the creative heavyweights of the Lotfp Epoch.

The Ghoul Prince, originally published for DCC but republished in the Kowolski adventure omnibus for his homebrew system is simultaneously an adventure and an attempt to experiment with tooling to enable the GM to reskin the adventure to a different setting. The degree to which the one is a necessary component of the other is up for debate, but fortunately the adventure is strong enough we can overlook a bit of tinkering.

The conversion tables work as follows. In the keys of the adventure, recurring elements are labelled as [Beast], [Small Statue], [Wards], [Body] etc. etc. In the front of the book, different descriptions, occasionally with different mechanical attributes, are given for each of three eras. Using this key, it is possible to portray the tomb proper as a cairn erected by neolithic hunter-gatherers, a classic egyptian tomb or the catacombs beneath a remote monastery. Cave paintings become bas-reliefs, clay figures become marble busts, pit traps filled with sharpened antlers become pressure plates triggering deadfalls etc. etc. The actual changes to the adventure are slight; only the nature of the wards, a magical effect that is surely not bound by the technological constraints of certain periods, is likely to have a significant impact on how players are going to approach the dungeon, changing what is a possible safe haven in the neolithic period [1] to a potential death-trap in the Catacombs [2]. The question then becomes, what is the benefit in doing so?

The fact this method has not been widely adopted should clue one into to its central problem. It is nice but it does not materially alter the adventure proper and even when it does so it rather defeats the purpose of reskinning in the first place. As a means of converting the adventure it succeeds, but the need to do so is hardly pressing.

Fortunately it is not becoming to dwell overlong on the utility of this one method as the adventure proper is quite good. The Ghoul Prince is a monstrous warrior, given unholy, army killing power by a sinister pact with a demon called The Bone Lady, and ultimately entombed by his father. His powers increase with the size of his opposition, meaning that where an army is sure to fail, a single valiant hero might be successfull. A sort of undead Jason Voorhees, complete with teleport capability, fear of his own visage (clever players might abuse the mirror in the tomb, or use their own) and a vulnerability to lightning.

The adventure proper is an 18 room tomb, a single loop, replete with bound spectral guardians, collapsing floors, ominous murals of the atrocities comitted by the ghoul prince, a mirror room, a shittonne of skulls, and the horror itself emerging from a pile of rubble to chase the PCs around the area. There is about one loop, although ideally the dungeon would have more places to hide to enable full Nightmare on Elmstreet emulation.

It is a Kowolski module and functions in a stereo-typically kowolskian fashion, like a primed explosive waiting for the PCs to blunder into it and set it off. There’s some advanced techniques being applied. There’s random encounters every turn but PCs can figure out a way to stop the spirit animals from coming by destroying their bodies in a certain room, or removing a basalt slab can add bone-less horrors dwelling in a pit to the random encounter table, the true name of the Bone lady can be gleaned from a featureless cube of adamant and used at a demonic idol to summon her, and a magic blade that is charged by lightning can be unearthed from a vat of glue. It all feels very interactive and like it could play out in different ways, and it is likely PCs will have to use the features of the dungeon to overcome the awakened Ghoul Prince. Making the map more labyrinthine would have added to the slasher-movie vibe but as it is it serves.

There are some gripes. The format is a little jarring, with key descriptions being interrupted by [STATUE] or [SWORD], triggering a little extra cognitive cycle while you try to recall what the particular key was for the version you are using. Traps are mostly not foreshadowed in any way and triggered by characters ‘attempting to walk into room J’ which is poor form. Perhaps more importantly, the effect of summoning the Bone Lady and how it relats to the Ghoul Prince, one of the most spectacular and occult ways of dealing with the awakened horror, is not discussed at all. It is possible the DCC version held more information r.e. the Bone Lady (as well as Patron spells I believe), and it does mention that pacts can be made in exchange for one’s skeleton, but more concrete guidance would have strengthened the adventure. From my reading it does appear that only by invoking the Bone Lady and having her take back the Bone mask can the Ghoul Prince be destroyed permanently. Everything else is a temporary reprieve at best.

It’s a Kowolski module, meaning low magic, all unique items, mostly unique monsters and the silver standard. Treasure alright for a low level party, on the order of thousands of sp (so thousands of experience points). The usual meta of secret doors and concealed treasure is bypassed but given the adventure’s other features this is hardly a great flaw. I am, as always, a little wary of the translation from NGR to the cursed ‘generic OSR’ format but it looks like it can hold together for the duration of the adventure.

Ghoul Prince is a decent entry with a strong horror premise that doesn’t outstay its welcome and should make for a highly enjoyable evening or two. It’s not quite on the order of Scenic Dunnsmouth or A Thousand Dead Babies but as a nasty suprise to unleash on your party it should serve quite well. Another fine entry for Kowolski, in a time when DIY D&D was not synonymous with ‘Garbage made by unstable teenagers.’


The DCC version can be checked out here.

[1] Standing in the warded area with a lit flame means you are invisible to supernatural creatures
[2] Supernatural creatures in the warded area bleed from the mouth and eyes while speaking but heal 1 damage per round


3 thoughts on “[Review] The Ghoul Prince (NGR); The Price of Innovation

  1. Did the “real deal” write anything above level 3 to 6? Doesn’t look like it, but then I gave up trying to find the level range for a few of them. Seems to me there should be a stipulation that you have to write at least one decent higher level adventure to earn a phrase like “real deal”.


    1. For NGR and Lotfp this is hardly an unforgiveable flaw no? He has written toolboxes, myriad open-ended environments, puzzle dungeons, an assault on a ruined Deep One colony, a time travel adventure, a martian neolithic sandbox adventure (that sucked!) and some other stuff. Broad range, above average competence. It is not becoming to quibble over the meaning of a term that has not been defined. I will take his lack of experience in the higher echelons into consideration when I write his Raggiography.


  2. I took out the Ghoul Prince and placed him in a Tomb of the Frostwalker. Ghoul Prince as a villain is freaking great from mechnical perspective. It’s amazingly designed to haunt players.The overall dungeon was OK-ish. I loved the Demon Doll.

    Thanks for the review!


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