Sunday, September 06, 2009
from Pueblo, CO USA
Review: physical specifics:
1. Each page has 2 columns of rather small 8-point? font which is very crisp and sharp. Any smaller and it would be a problem. As it is, it’s big enough for me.
2. almost no typos
3. 99% systemless: can be used with any FRPG
4. Detached cover with map on the inside like the old TSR modules
This is a module for 1st to 3rd level characters, though the author notes that it would probably be suitable for characters up to 6th level. While it is a standalone adventure, it can easily be used in conjunction with the author’s People of Pembrooktonshire and his No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides. The adventure locale of Death Frost Doom finds a natural home on one of the mountains surrounding the village of Pembrooktonshire.
Alone in the mountains lives the best-realized character in a module I’ve ever come across: an old coot named Zeke Duncaster. He lives eight hours down the mountain from an abandoned evil shrine surrounded by the frozen corpses of thousands of victims of the shrine’s cult. Zeke has dedicated his life to carving as many headstones for these innocents as he can before death claims him. Why? “I vowed that I would give them all proper headstones so folks could know that they used to all be real people.”
We all know that PCs can be needlessly violent. If old Zeke is attacked, he will offer no resistance but his ‘eyes will sharpen and he will say with eerie clarity, “I know what becomes of the souls of men who slay men. Do you?”’
In the hands of a capable DM, the encounter with Zeke Duncaster can be memorable indeed. This is also true of the mass graveyard and petrified cabin farther up the mountain. I’ve seldom if ever seen such a powerful atmosphere or mood in a module. Also at this point can be found some of the magical purple lotus, which can affect a character in any of 100 different ways random table with intriguing results included.
Beneath the cabin is the subterranean shrine of the extinct evil cult. The large map on the inside of the cover is of the shrine, and here is a weakness of the module. The map, while serviceable, appears to be overly dependent upon the graph paper upon which it is drawn. It was recently pointed out to me that drawing a dungeon map on featureless rather than graph paper liberates one from “following the lines”. Such a map tends to be more twisted and natural. Further, the regularity of the map itself makes it just a little hard to read at times: It can be just a touch difficult to distinguish between the inside of a room and solid rock. I hope James will consider for future maps having the grid-lines within rooms and corridors only, and leaving the solid rock free of the grid-lines. Plus, color the solid rock something, even if it’s but a light gray.
The underground shrine is dominated by vast numbers several thousand of crypts. Smart PCs could gain easy and essentially limitless gold and experience points if they play it smart. Of course, not too many PCs are smart. They tend to fiddle with things, and one of the lessons of this module to players is similar to the message conveyed by Gary’s S1: Tomb of Horrors: Don’t touch anything! Don’t attack anything! Don’t screw around or get curious! Fill your bags up with treasure and get out of Dodge. This is a particularly valuable lesson for new players.
I don’t want to give specifics as to what will happen if the PCs force their way though into places angels would fear to tread. Let’s just say that the players will really be sorry.
For my tastes, the conclusion of the module isn’t as chilling or horrific as the set-up. That said, it would have been very difficult for anyone to deliver 100% on the module’s evocative set-up.
In a nutshell: The PCs at one extreme could cart-off a huge amount of wealth at virtually no danger, or at the other extreme could royally screw everything up and having nothing to show for it. The players will need to be very cautious in here.
Also included in this booklet is a 3-page mini adventure entitled “The Tower”. The only commonality between “The Tower” and Death Frost Doom is their shared background in the spectral ancient civilization of Duvan’Ku. The lesson of “The Tower” is that sometimes a given adventure nets you NOTHING.
The art in this module perfectly complements the text: the eerie wintry grandeur of the cover, the physically repulsive Zeke Duncaster, and most especially Laura Jalo’s drawing on page 17 which is perhaps my favorite drawing in any module.
The best way I can characterize Death Frost Doom is by saying that it partakes of the spirit of those authors that James Raggi names as his inspirations on the very first page: H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert W. Chambers, Algernon Blackwood, M. P. Shiel, William Hope Hodgson, Manly Wade Wellman, and Arthur Machen.