No signs of stopping in this one. Whoah.
Monster Summoning: Every issue is a new delight, followed by a groan of despair at the lack of XP in the otherwise immaculate AD&D statt blocks. There’s always one monster that is clever but not so weird it seems out of place against a backdrop of Monster manual entries. The Stone Man, which must exist in other places under other names (was it Dungeoneer?), is a shapechanging ogre-like being that can switch between stone and flesh, and will grab targets and then assume stone form, strangling them with its unbreakable grip. Wurm & Eyestalks are independent beholder eyestalks, each with a single eye power (what?, that’s great!). If that does not suit your fancy and you are looking for something that is more Terry Gilliam-esque, there is the Gnog, a chaotic 3 HD tribe of humanoid that will attempt to negotiate, but whose conversation induces in the listener a suggestive state, which they will use to send them on wild goose chases for impossible objectives. The terrible power of the Birch Spirit and the solitary but malignant Red Caps represent more standard fare. Look at this beauty!
D&D Ideas (Graham Perrin & Simon Thornley): An extremely degenerate article where the experience system is chopped up into different segments so characters can advance piecemail, weapon proficiencies are further chopped up so you can decrease the penalty for unskilled use by -1 for every x amount of xp, AC is decreased by one each fighter level and it gets worse from thereon. There’s a variant xp system where you only get xp for gold that is spent on weapons training (by the hour), a variant hit point system where your hp is equal to your strength, armor has hit points so it breaks down and so on and so forth.
The Germlin: I promise this issue is going to get good. New class (implied race as class), an impish trickster with a cleric attack table, thief armor, half strength thieving powers, spell-like abilities, a +2 bonus to hit against paladins oyoyoy. At a progression of 1500 xp per level, spell-like abilities that include Darkness and Invisibility at level 1 and a host of other powers, this might be the strongest class we have seen in Beholder. Interesting concept, execution not so much.
Reviews: A review of Sword of Hope and Temple of Ra Accursed by Set for JG. Not bad!
Letters: Two insightful moments, the rest of negligible interest. Notice brevity.
- Write what you know. 2) Interesting to see the progression from the short, barebones tournament style format to more experimental material until eventually we end up with something in between; solid, playable material with minor innovations.
Magic Jar: Evergreen format. Mostly weapons of war this time. A blade +1, +4 against spider, that disables a phase spider’s ability to jump. An orc blade, strong against elves, that can summon a band of ferocious warriors. A standard that summons goblin warriors, but they are not always friendly. I’m not too sure about a whip that can deafen/daze everyone in a 40′ radius except the wielder at will, but the radius does mean that your fellow party members are also likely to be effected.
The second page is all minor items. A pouch of everful pipeweed, a ring that allows you to drink as much as you want, a libram of captivating tales that entrances all who read it for many hours, some sort of Sun Shield that gives off bright light and can channel a lightning bolt every week and at the last, an Illusionist Staff of Might! Obstinate refusal to provide any sort of gp/xp values notwithstanding, most of this stuff feels like an extension of the existing library of magic items, continuing on in the same trend, without it coming across as stale or reaching. Nice.
The Devil’s Quagmire
Andy Ravenscroft & Quentin Manley
Lvl 3-4 (6-9 characters)
And now for our feature length presentation. An atmospheric hexcrawl through an accursed swamp, with the usual layout issues and occasionally vague writing. It is still very good. A glance at the inspirations brings joy. Jade Man’s Eyes, KEW’s Bloodstone, Lotr, Dying Earth, Merlin’s Godson? Sign me on!
14 islands in a nightmarish swamp, filled with the degenerate remnants of old powers, threaded by paths. Outside the island, all is dark and murky. It is not so much that you are bound to the paths, it is that stepping off them means a high chance of blundering into quicksand. You fall in, you sink depending on your armor, and depending on your armor, you can either swim free, or need X amount of str points to be extracted. If you fail a save you panic. How it is determined who falls in is left up to the humble GM to decide. A seemingly innocuous, but vital detail. If the quicksand will not get you, there is an table of swampish wandering monsters to entertain the PCs with, spartan but its there! Will-o the wisps, Marsh Hags, giant lizards etc.
The adventure proper is a hexcrawl, a series of lairs and mini-dungeons tied together via paths secret and known. What clinches it is the strength of the individual encounters. A light touch elevates what could have been a bog standard adventure into something murky and ancient. There’s a den of spiders, okay, you think, but then the Spiders are intelligent and can speak, a dim shadow of an ancient race, with only their King retaining his full magic powers, and demanding tribute. A cavern with an island inside, monstrous eels in the water, with an orc/dwarfish ferryman who commands his boat by song the only way across? He is also a sage of the island? This rocks.
The weird? The weird. An isle set with stone tablets, bearing strange runes, touching them triggers an ancient and magical three-stage rite of passage of the Piasa, a now degenerate race of Lizardmen that inhabit the swamp. Or upon the shores, a hut in which lives a man bound by geas to record all the travellers going into the swamp, trying to trick people into writing their name in gold among the ranks, which will free him from this wizardly curse and trap whoever did so. A vancian gambit. I love it. I love the guardian demon bound to a pole on the only path on the eastern side. You can try to fight him, sneak past him, agree to help him, pay a tribute. Its good. Cruel lizardmen worshipping an idol of some demon, sacrificing prisoners. A great runic gateway, leading to another plane where is the only path to the temple of Arioch, where the characters encounter a winged demon. The thing channels a serious oldschool Moorcockian vibe.
There’s a few cases when the individual encounters could be stronger. Locations seem like they should be offering organized resistance but don’t offer that much in the way of guidelines. Still there’s enough for you to work with. There’s a brilliant idea, a house on the hill that is actually a demonic entity that will attempt to digest intruders or kill them with its possessed and demonic sevitors, and finding and killing its brain or heart (which hardens into a gemstone) will cause it to collapse over the course of x melee rounds. Its a great idea even if the execution is a bit minimal (only one hallway that attempts to digest the players, and no other real effects of the living house). The temple of Arioch is a fairly simple set up with an excellent set piece (a pool of bubbling black chaos fluid in which sacrifices are cast) and undead worshippers but it is just 9 rooms.
This is one of those cases where the combined effect is very strong, probably strong enough to overcome the handful of weaker components. Combined treasure is about 16000 gp, a good smattering of magic items, solid and consumables. Some of the creatures are liable to leave a few bodies on the ground if one is not careful, in particular the Type I demon in the charnel house and the challenges. Tough but fair.
The charming hand-drawn illustrations notwithstanding , Devils Quagmire is quite good, striking a balance between atmosphere and gameplay. There’s a few rough edges but that should not deter you from checking this one out. Throw this in your campaign RIGHT NOW.
9 thoughts on “[Review] The Beholder #16; The Devil’s Quagmire”
Something similar to that DUD Idea (oops, I mean D&D Idea) appeared in Dragon (I’m guessing somewhere around issue 120). I thought it was an intriguing idea when I first saw it but it would be a pain in the ass to implement.
It’s also similar to E6, this idea that popped up in 3.0 to have characters max at level six, and then use their XP to buy feats to get some of the higher level abilities of their class. Again, an intriguing idea…
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It seems the road to hell is paved with intriguing ideas.
Ultimately, if you would rather play a skills-based game instead of a level based game, you should probably change game systems. The goes with E6 too, if you think that D20 gets ridiculous at higher levels, maybe you should dump it for something that makes it harder to get to high level (like, *ahem* OSR). I was going to try E6 with the last campaign, but it wouldn’t work well with Pathfinder (I AM a heretic after all) and the players didn’t like the idea of a level cap (“but…but…we WANT to get ridiculously powerful).
I wonder if Travellers is a level-less game and maybe that’s where the temptation came from.
Another great issue it seems. I’ve done a few rooms that want to eat you but never an entire house. This is going in my latest adventure for sure.
I assume the artist is Quentin Manley. I like his style, not perfect, but very good, especially for such a publication!
‘Bog standard’. Nice…
Fair comment on Psaan. Actually an uncredited scenario written by me with the map redrawn by Guy Duke. One of my early contributions to TBH. The cover artwork for this issue is by Quentin Manley, a drawing of one of my PCs at the time. Quentin did all the illustrations for my pieces in Beholder and Demonsblood, gosh that was a long time ago…
It is fine work, atmospheric, rich, interesting to get into it now.
Oops posted previous comment on the wrong page. Meant to put this on Beholder 11. Can’t see how to delete it
Nice commentary on Quagmire, although ‘charming’ with respect to my maps is a generous choice of words. ‘Naff’ also comes to mind. Guy Duke used to redraw them but I think he was either short on time or patience or both when it came to this scenario Quentin’s illustrations redeem things somewhat Glad you found something in it worth the read after all these years later.