Friday, November 27, 2009
from Pueblo, CO USA
Review: The Grinding Gear
written by James Edward Raggi IV
artwork by Laura Jalo
published in 2009 by Lamentations of the Flame Princess
1. booklet sized: 6” x 9”
2. 3 sturdy, glossy, detached covers
3. 16-page booklet
4. Each page has 2 columns of rather small 8-point? font which is very crisp and sharp.
5. excellent proofreading/editing
What Game It Is For, and What Levels
This product is an adventure module for three to eight characters of 1st to 4th level. It is best suited for what I call “perennial Dungeons & Dragons”, meaning that it can easily be used with any of the following:
any version of D&D or AD&D published by TSR
Hackmaster 4th edition
Castles & Crusades
Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game
Spellcraft & Swordplay
Swords & Wizardry
The Covers Plural!
I’ve followed the publications of Lamentations of the Flame Princess from the beginning, and with each new release the production values improve. Their first product the Random Esoteric Creature Generator had, in terms of production values, little more than some cool art to make-up for its physical roughness. Their next batch of releases Death Frost Doom, No Dignity in Death, and People of Pembrooktonshire was slick, polished, and mostly black-and-white. The Grinding Gear kicks it up another notch with its full-color cover, professionally done maps, and very sturdy, glossy covers. Three of them!
1. The outermost cover is Jalo’s ghoulish full-color art on the outside, and inside is a map of the surface area above the dungeon.
2. The next cover has maps of the dungeons on one side, and on the other side some interesting notes by the author detailing the logic behind some of the encounter areas in the module.
3. The final cover has a players’ map on one side, and a cratered moonscape on the other.
All three of the covers are detached i. e., not stapled to the module booklet itself. This is very handy for actual use of the module in a game, or even for casual reading.
The Book Itself
Page 1 of the module is devoted to the author’s notes. The author has an engaging and distinctive style. One observation that Raggi makes sticks out in my mind. He writes: “You probably don’t create adventures and locations like this in your game. Although this adventure is now yours to do with as you please, I ask that you consider not changing those elements which most clash with your gaming style. This is one of the very purposes of using published materials, to take on different perspectives and styles than you would have on your own.”
I consider that to be a very good point. When all of a campaign’s adventures spring from a single mind, they will suffer from at some level a certain sameness. Taking Raggi’s advice will afford a greater degree of variety in the campaign.
Page 2 contains the introduction and background. The titular Grinding Gear is an abandoned inn. It was owned by a man named Garvin Richrom, whose daughter ended up dead the victim of a trap in an ancient tomb after she ran off with an adventurer. This made Garvin hate adventurers, so he constructed a trap-filled dungeon to lure adventurers to their deaths.
Pages 3 to 5 detail the surface area above the dungeons. The surface area is not only dangerous in its own right, but tied closely to the dungeon below. Players take note! YOUR skills not merely your character’s skills will be tested, right from the beginning of this module. THINK and carefully OBSERVE your surroundings. WRITE STUFF DOWN so you’ll remember it. This can be the difference between life and death herein.
Pages 6 to 16 detail a dungeon of the “heavy on the traps” variety. Remember that a bereaved and vengeful father spent years constructing a deadly gauntlet of challenges for foolish adventurers. I do not wish to spoil the particulars thereof for any players who might adventure therein. Suffice it to say that I found the dungeon to be clever, intriguing, and imaginative. I’d enjoy exploring the dungeon as a player, and I doubt that I would survive. That’s the sort of dungeon I prefer, one in which my choices have real and even grave consequences for my character.
In terms of difficulty, the dungeon will most probably be fatal for neophytes, but a cautious and experienced group of 1st to 4th level characters can make it through alive with some treasure to show for it. It is certainly not as deadly as, for example, Gary Gygax’s S1: Tomb of Horrors.
The Bottom Line
The Grinding Gear is a well-executed, trap-themed dungeon. It is Raggi’s most traditional product to date. I admire the fact that each of Raggi’s products is so different from each of his other products. He does not just keeping writing the same thing over and over again. I recommend this product to any referee who would like a good, solid, trap-heavy dungeon for his campaign.