[No-Artpunk] #10 Shrine of the Small God

Shrine of the Small God
Ben Gibson
B/X
Lvl 3 – 5 (uh…)
11 Pages

Another NAP 1 contender and general all around solid module cobbler, Ben Gibson delivers a thrilling tomb crawl in the mode of Hidden Shrine of Taomachan. He gave me a caveat that there might be some minor editing mistakes because of the dreaded CONTEST DEADLINE, which I magnanimously handwaved, greedy to get my hands on yet more No-Artpunk.

Shrine of the Small God is pretty good, describing a 2 level 27-room complex once dedicated to a petty godling (A Cabbage God no less), and currently in the process of being looted by thieves, and plundered by vengeful earth elementals. Enter the PCs, to add yet another vial of nitroglycerine to this already volatile mess.

Lessons have been learned since Tower of the Time Master, which was excellent but a whee bit dry, as Shrine is a colorfully spiced with Mezo-American descriptions, the giant rats have been reskinned as Scabrous Guinea Pigs, there’s Condors, Aztec mummies, glowing sunlight forcefields, exhausted dart traps, plates of gold and silver and this is juxtaposed against WEIRD SHIT. Weird as in, the Cabbage God’s body is made of cabbage, you can eat him. And it’s not done for laughs it’s sort of worked into the scenery so it’s not grating and you kind of go along with the weird premise.

Good hooks, scenic. A cheerfull llama-herder buys drinks for everyone with a plate of gold he says he found near the high plato. A merchant sells an aged poncho bearing a map to the temple. Lord Churan is looking for Wa’kas of other temples for some divine project. It’s good stuff. More importantly, there is a nasty complication. A band of vaguely conquistadore-esque tomb robbers have already tried the place, lost some of their members, and decided it would be easier to dupe some other shmucks into doing it and then stealing their shit when they get out. I believe that is maneuver #9 from the Book of Gm Fuckery, very good.

Good map, mostly. Effective use of secret doors, without hamfisted telegraphing. Very much a tomb-like environment as opposed to a living place, occasional flourishes like 2 young pumas feeding on a dead thief notwithstanding. I think Ben normally runs either Pathfinder or 5e and the concept of alerts and orders of battle still needs to sink in. However, as C1 shows, you can still do good things with single encounters, and Gibson is no slouch in this. Occasionally weird flourishes like having a room with walls decorated with the bizarre purification rituals of the cabbage cult come back as gameplay as luring the mummified priests into this room forces them to perform the oblations. Deep cut but I dig it. Also important, the primary entrance is down, requiring a rope to climb down, and it is immediately foreshadowed that something is wrong by the skeletons clutching a cut rope near the entrance. Good! Also good, having areas walled off by transparent fields of glowing sunlight, which tease people with the promise of treasure and prompt investigation, and disabling the mechanism frees up the treasure but also unleashes monsters.

Let’s talk about traps. I actually like it that we don’t see the usual (sand-trap, crushing blocks, pit with spikes etc.) but that you get weird variations (depleted dart trap that fires poisoned dust now, solar forcefield bissection trap, bottomless pit trap). These are mostly well telegraphed or placed appropriately (holes in the wall or on idols with gemstone eyes I mean you are asking for it) but there are two violations worth discussing for educational purposes.

Nr. 1.

This one sucks too because it only takes a single addition to make it not just fair, but awesome as you duck and weave, or fight the puma’s on your knees. Add a description that ‘the skeletons appear to be bissected at about chest height.’ Viola. Now the PCs can maybe glean there is something wrong and once you chop of half their heads on a single saving throw you may now cackle maliciously while they hit their heads and mutter dejectedly ‘we are so fucking dumb.’

Nr. 2.

Again, the impulse is good, but Green Slime can only move 3′ per round, according to the B/X derived RC, so it couldn’t really ‘erupt’. Hence the common tactic of either falling on people or disguising itself amid moss or something so people step in it. It seems like I am bitching but this sort of consistency is important because so players can get a feel for what to expect. If capabilities are fluid you get analysis paralysis very quickly.

Random encounters are heavy for a B/X party of level 3-5. A party of about equal strength is of course very harsh, 2d6 rats or 2d4 thieves (as bandits) is pretty fair, Two Pumas is a bit heavy on the frontliners but a Mummy or a Gelatinous Cube is punishing. Not a tpk, but rough. I think a note that certain encounters only occur once would probably ameliorate things.

Encounters proper are pretty good, minor inaccuracies aside. A statue with a dire condor (as ‘small’ Roc) on its hand, encased in force-fields, which will unleash the Roc are well and good, but how did the damned thing survive for all these years? Add a note on stasis or something. Other thieves that are trapped down here can be allied with, but they are also asshole thieves so they can’t actually be trusted. There’s a mummy wise woman you can talk to who is actually pretty friend but goddamn that blanket she is wearing is threaded with gold. The fact Oraclea’s (the god) body is actually hidden and if you find it you can just kill it (the effect of this is not described, a shame!) is good. You can see all the reps Ben has been doing on encounter design because everything is used very deliberately. A room, you see a dagger floating in the centre IT’S A GELATINOUS CUBE DUMB BITCH. You slap yourself on your forehead as your paralyzed thief dissapears beneath the protoplasmic mass. Two Earth elementals (8HD) wandering around a pool of water, with a gem they covet at the centre, which also happens to be the most valuable piece of treasure. Them’s good encounters. The ability to converse with the cabbage god itself and possibly fight its avatar if you take its offerings (2500 gp’s worth) are appreciated, although an opportunity to actually aid it would have made the adventure even stronger, particularly since there is also a batty mummy earth priestess to contend with.

It is, probably, a bit on the hard side for 3-5. Plentiful mummies, copious use of green slime, a 10 HD avatar with spellcasting powers, 2 earth elementals, an 8th level thief leading a band of thugs (without magic items? for shame). I know many of these can be avoided or interacted with, but this thing is going to leave some bodies to be sure. If the GM has the rogues trap the PCs downstairs or rob them on the way back this could be very ugly.

Treasure…yeah!

And so forth. It’s good. It’s not very well concealed. There are secret vaults with more of it, which is good. Plentiful cursed treasure too, also good. Probably a minor violation for having too much customized magic items? I dunno it seems vaguely suspicious. Nothing egregious, but +1 dagger with steel core pointing to the constellation that is currently ascendant or the Hoe of Earth’s Woe, and the manifold cursed items, as opposed to items with a curse placed on them…it’s dubious. Bonus points for playful variation, fake treasure that seems valuable but is not, cursed treasure, heavy treasure, a 40 pound keystone that acts as a Wand of Negation, I dig it. Plentiful weird stuff too, like removing all the diamonds in a night black ceiling will unleash some sort of malginant star borne madness (Tzimitzil reference?) on whoever does so if they fail a saving throw. That’s perfect!

Pretty strong entry. Factions are present but they don’t feel forced. The various undead and tomb robbers may be interacted with, there’s plenty to discover, it doesn’t pull punches (I mean having 6 mummies rise simultaneously if you violate a certain hidden sanctum is verging on cruel but you can run). The force fields are well implemented (if I understand it, you need the mace, allowing you to pass through the statue’s field, pulling its arm and thus disabling the trap?). Cabbage god is good, I would have accepted river spirit, but this is admittedly wilder, and it does kind of work.

With some minor polish this is suitable for standalone publication, but then it’s Ben Gibson, who already does that. A strong second showing from an NAP veteran, even if it does occasionally scratch and scrape at the contest parameters.













14 thoughts on “[No-Artpunk] #10 Shrine of the Small God

  1. Argh, see this is what I meant by polish. That trap room had the dead thief bisected, I described him in playtesting as bisected, but there in the copy, no bisection, darn it all. Likewise the green slime is absolutely something that attacks once but clearly can’t chase if evaded.

    My playtest group was a very well-equipped set of level 4s with good hireling support, certainly can see 3 being too low upon reflection, particularly with groups less prone to run. The Hoe of Earth’s Woe was the new magic item by my budget, I see what you mean by cursed items vs. items with curses though.

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    1. I ran into the same problem with items with curses. As far as I’m concerned the DMG describes how to make cursed items in pretty great detail and as long as you didn’t stray too far from those guidelines it’s still a book item.

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      1. Oh, it was an absolute blast to run and the players had a great time, I know there’s a good adventure there, just frustrating when the thing written misses what was there in the thing run.

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    2. Yeah, I was going to say level 3 is pretty small to be facing mummies (especially mummies in multiples…something I like to do myself). Level 4-6 looks about right. What’s the treasure take? Something in the high 30s, low 40s?

      [shouldn’t a 20# gold plate be worth 200 g.p.?]

      I am an absolute sucker for Mesoamerican theming. These maps look pretty darn good (aesthetically pleasing, too). Monster selection seems good for theme…definitely mid-range B/X. 8 HD earth elementals (2-16) aren’t a pushover encounter, but aren’t nearly as nasty as creatures with multiple attacks, especially given the plentitude of plate mail and DEX bonuses in B/X. Pumas aren’t that bad, either (assuming mountain lion stats) as damage

      [cue standard rant about low level adventurers fighting gods]

      Dig the head-slapping tricks/traps. All that is delightful.

      RE: Cursed Items

      For me, many such items fall under the heading of trick/trap. Now, players being players, there are times they will find ways to make these things useful/helpful to their cause. But especially items that ‘blow up’ in PCs’ faces (i.e. have one-off effects) or whose curses only (or mainly) have application at this particular adventure site, I don’t count them as any more than another trap.

      A classic example would be the talking “delusion” ring in module S2: White Plume Mountain. Non-standard magic item? Sure…but it only functions in the room of the dungeon in which it’s found. Same with the cursed “gem of wishing” in S1: Tomb of Horrors.

      I am less prone to consider such items rule violations.

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      1. Thanks Becker, I’m running a whole campaign that could be described as “Classical Greeks invade the Inca” and I really feel like Incan structures and influences get unfairly neglected compared to the Central American empires.

        Gold count was about 45,000 assuming everything gets found/recovered, although at least in my players’ case it seems like “hidden” is less of a block than “incredibly heavy and awkward”. Dire Condors make a caravan of pack llamas a very risky proposition.

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      2. Incan civilization is very much un-mined gold (no pun intended) when it comes to adventure RPGs. The un-official Mordheim supplement “Lustria: City of Gold” showed a bit of the potential, but the Andean civilization’s are just a lot less understood by us Northern Hemisphere folks, for a number of reasons (specifically: proximity compared to Mexico, lack of a written language, and the dynamics/interaction of the indigenous population with their “conquerors;” Mexico’s contact with Spain was FAR DIFFERENT from that of the Inca).

        Which is too bad, because there is A LOT of amazing history there! When I first started setting up my (current, ongoing) AD&D campaign, my initial idea (back in 2020) was to set it in South America, and I did quite a bit of research on the geography, history, and indigenous cultures / language groups. However, in the end I punted the idea due to A) squeamishness regarding blatant historical colonialism, and B) better familiarity with my home region (the Pacific Northwest). Still, there’s a part of me that longs to return to Bolivia and the mystical megadungeon that is Licancabur.

        Anyway: kudos to you. Also: dire condors are pretty awesome.
        ; )

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  2. Congratulations Ben, this seems like a fun blast of an adventure… although I think you missed a trick with the title: ‘Shrine of the Small God’ is a bit underwhelming & dry. If you’d called this adventure something a bit more intriguing and flavourful, like ‘Cursed Shrine of the Cabbage Godling’, I’d be practically frothing at the mouth to play / run it.

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  3. Your comment about the Roc provides an interesting contrast between your reviews and Bryce’s. “how did the damned thing survive for all these years? Add a note on stasis or something” If the author had included a note, Bryce would probably go off on ‘magical renfaire bullshit’. I think I’d probably agree with this (theoretical) Bryce review. Best to leave a little mystery (that can be fleshed out if the PCs have the interest) rather than over-explaining everything.

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    1. I like mystery as much as the next guy because ambiguity can make things seem much larger then they really are but at the same time, there is a power to internal consistency and the ability to infer and extrapolate based on the attributes of the game world. There is a tightrope here between funhouse on the one hand and the banality of late 1e Dungeon magazine entries on the other.

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