[Review] The Beholder #6; New Year’s Gift

The gods are kind and have provided. The missing issue is here.

It is fitting irony that it is not that good. Many of the articles are haphazard. The adventure itself is very interesting.

Sounds. An article on generic sounds you might find in a dungeon, with occasional effects for such things as the terrifying shriek of a skeleton. The mechanical effects can often be extrapolated (say, PCs get deafened by a bang) and seem heavy for mundane effects (say, a -2 to hit in an area that has loud groaning).

Runes. A list of enchanted runes that may be placed on objects and even creatures! for a one-off magical effect. Nice, practical game considerations like how many segments it takes for them to bond with the object, how they can be dispelled, are all taken along. A rune of Earthquake, that causes a quake to form on any structure it is placed upon. An evil rune of ressurection, that will bring someone back but they will always be of CE alignment. A rune that if placed on a pure element, will manifest an unpredictable but powerful elemental being. Runes of animate object and special trap runes of delayed blast fireball. I especially like that these things often take time to place, incentivizing more cerebral gameplay. None of the runes have XP values which sucks.

Monster Summoning. New monsters that for the most part have shown up in D&D at one point or another so at least the creation is happening in the right direction. Chameleonmen (B8 I think, and later in Maze of the Blue Medusa!), Giant chameleons (a non-horned variety, but the horned one definetely shows up in B/X if not earlier), Giant Snail (Giant Slug is in MM1, but this one has a shell!) and the Flame Spirit is a sort of fire-based water-weird. Having the chameleon tongues automatically stun without a saving throw seems much too powerful. There are a few odd ones that are interesting. Living Holes, the sound beast that projects silence around it and heals by noise, the Tarhospehk is a sacred CN beast summoned to protect temples. Monster summoning in Beholder continues to be consistently good, but also WTF are my XP values???

DM’s Corner. The first of its kind. A set of practices for good GMing are discussed, in list format. Many of these tips would be repeated in the by then as yet unpublished DMG so they should be familiar to most of the people reading this. For novice dungeon cobblers, the tip to give themes to dungeon levels and not go soft and allow the players to suffer from the result of their own actions should still be useful. What do we think about this list of priorities every DM should cover.

The note that Phantasmal force would often be banned in home games is new to me. The creeping intrusion of critical hit and even worse, fumble systems by then elicits only a tired nod. /

Guy Duke & Mike Stoner

Lvl ??? (1?)

A micro-dungeon, still bigger then your average OSR game-jam dungeon.

There is a suprising amount of sophistication to some of the tiny encounters, with the kobolds rolling metal balls down a steep incline, or the door falling shut, a fake treasure, a kobold guardian blocking off escape with a wand of web, and a swarm of Living holes. The treasure is abysmally low (~500 gp) and would indicate an adventure for 1st level characters, and although the swarm of Living Holes in the beginning is a formidable challenge, observant players should be able to escape without taking all too many casualties. Not offensive, but nothing special. **

Of Brae-Land and Wold
Guy Duke & Mike Stoner
Lvl 3 – 5

A rare foray into Tolkinian homage. The format is singular, oddly mystical, repeated only in Beholder 5. It would be interesting to learn what marked the change from that issue and this one to the very conventional The Goblin Complex an issue later. As agents of the Gods, you are pitted against ‘The Evil Forces of Static Economy of Brae-land and Wold.’ The region is locked into stasis. You must find the three objects relating to each force, and cast them into the Spring of Romen, so the region may evolve as ordained. You are countered by agents of The Foe. Very strange. In a later era this would be a macguffin quest and all the mythic elements would have been erased but there is something, I don’t know, authentic about this. The information presentation is crude even by 1970 standards, hampering it.

The adventure is heavily inspired by the flight of the Hobbits in the Fellowship. The elaborate hex map with its myriad terrain types is actually used. You have to set out from the village of Brae-bank for each artifact. With each passing day, the chance of encountering an enemy on the road (in the form of the terrible Black Riders, Wraiths on horses) increases, as does the enemy strength at the Tower of Guard and around the Spring of Romen. An Aragorn ripoff shows up to direct the heroes to the first quest, preceded by a fake Aragorn ripoff that will lead them into an ambush with 15 bandits. The gloves are off, excellent!

Probably a good adventure, hampered by issues with presentation. Random encounters in the back of the adventure, the effects of time passing are scattered throughout the book, location keys are spread across the three quests. Its not incomprehensible but it does require a thorough readthrough and might pose some problems during play. For example, the first location you travel to from the swamp is not explicitly marked, and you have to really squint to find where everything is.

The challenges are very strange. You encounter a gate. A spectral voice cries out: ‘YOU MAY NOT ENTER. WHAT YOU SEEK DOES NOT LIE HERE.’ And when you do, you are lost in a land of mists, and the gate dissapears behind you. Rob Kuntz style cryptic shit, the only way out is to start singing (supposedly a reference to the Fog on the Barrow-downs?). There is a fairy tale element in short stories that works well in a static medium but is annoying in an interactive medium. The protagonist is warned of some danger by a mystic herald and when he encounters that danger, he heeds that heralds advice and all is fine. So stay on the path in the Hagmarsh. A Black Unicorn known as the Marshroamer with a poisoned horn, whose horseshoe is the first Force. It feels almost like a Grail Quest.

This map is vestigial.

It is prevented from being a railroad because of the occasional treacherous nature. You are directed by Wayfarer to an old wise woman, you find her dead, she has a parchment with directions written on it, and then another set of directions scribbled above in a different hand. Which route do you take? If you took the latter, ambush time, but again very strange, with a great rock on a hill that your hand will stick to if you touch it, and then 3 Black Riders arrive. It pulls this trick again later, with an old man showing up to warn you that only one with the First Force may enter the tower, but it is actually an evil magic user trying to take the force and escape to the Tower of Guard (this is another tower). The quest gets stranger and stranger, with the top of the tower having two giant white eagles you must fight, and their only egg hatching to become an indestructable talking venomous asp, the second Force.

The third Force, under the Tower of Guard, which again has to be inferred on the map rather then having the benefit of being directly marked on it is a sort of theatre of the mind combat, a single tower in a large wall comprised of multiples, with enough description to give you a general idea of the geometry, and a garrison that can vary from 2-6 goblins and 1-4 Hobgoblins to an absolutely ballbusting 5-10 goblins, hobgoblins, 2-5 ogres, 1 hill giant, x 1.5 for the Tower of Guard. There are even rudimentary tactics. The third Force is a four leaf clover in a literal jack-in-the-box.

The last segment, beyond the Spring of Romen, is…I’ll just show you.

A Tolkien module as written by Alehandro Jodorowski. I think for the right audience this could work, but there are a series of annoyances that would be dispelled if the map were improved. Patrols on the road increase with each day, but the names of the roads and areas are not marked, so they must be inferred. If you took the map and augmented it with additional markings this could be a unique experience for a particular group. There are unique movement and hex crawl rules appended in the back that help add some additional opportunities for intelligent decision making. The movement rules are actually quite elaborate.

This one is a bit like Trouble at Embertrees (which I probably should have rated higher). It is oddly compelling but you need to put in a bit of work and there is a lot of bookkeeping involved. The treasure is a bit low, the module recommends awarding XP as the characters complete each small task (does this mean simply awarding it, or is it an extra amount), and a bonus of 1000 XP upon completion (total or per character, I recommend the latter) yields, an amount but not an unreasonable amount. ***

Letters. Household complaints. It is interesting how terrible some of the feedback or suggestions are, and the editor actually manages to spot that and nip it in the bud. Kudos. Customer Service is a frankenstein monster of the modern world, and should be accessible only after the completion of an IQ test.

Update: The Heretic asks, and I deliver.

Alignment. Discussion on alignment. Everyone simultaneously hates and performs Alignment discussions. The attempt to break down alignment into rigid cadres of what is and is not acceptable does not neccesarily improve. A discussion with a fellow on the Pedantic server parallels some of the interpretations here, of Law and Chaos being determinants of the flexibility of the moral alignment. Chaotic Evil is the strongest form of evil, with acts of altruism being all but impossible, while Lawful evil characters are interpreted as being able to have great leeway in their approach to evil, as long as ultimate evil results. With the Good alignment, this flexibility is reversed.

TLDR Alignment discussions will never die. Please consider any discussion of the concept in my comment section to be a crime against humanity.

Mini-review: Tomb of Horrors. Its nice but there is a better review.

Back in the saddle for the new year. Let’s gooooooo.


7 thoughts on “[Review] The Beholder #6; New Year’s Gift

  1. “TLDR Alignment discussions will never die. Please consider any discussion of the concept in my comment section to be a crime against humanity.”

    Does that mean such conversations would be considered…Chaotic Evil?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You should show us some of the awful feedback and questions they received in the Letters section. It could be entertaining.


  3. I really like a British-Celtic theme for my adventures and Of Brae-land and Wold fits that theme well. Your review makes it sound superior to many White Dwarf adventures and maybe even those published by TSR. My conclusion from your review is that with some tidying up and better structure that it would be a very good adventure.


  4. That’s crazy and cool! As you know, hoss, I did something very similar to runes in Cha’alt… but I called them glyphs. When did this issue come out?


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