Advanced Adventures: The Curse of the Witch-Head (OSR)
This adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front and back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested by one of my patreons to be undertaken at my leisure.
Now, it should be noted that this, like all modules in the series, manages to cram a significant amount of material into its pages, providing a rather impressive amount of text into the pages. The adventure features a new hazard-concept as well as three new monsters; however, with the exception of one of them, they tie in with the story, and thus will be covered in the SPOILER-section.
As before, the series employs the OSRIC-rules and is easily adaptable to other OSR-games (and more current ones). Formatting-wise, it should be noted that spells and magic items have been bolded, and the same goes for monster names and major negative conditions mentioned in the text. This deviation from formatting standards is not exactly something the OCD-guy in me likes, but they’re consistent, so yeah – I can live with that aspect.
The adventure is intended for 4 – 6 characters level 6 – 10, though it should be noted that a good mixture of character classes is very much recommended. This is a difficult module, though one that thankfully derives its difficulty mainly from player-skill as well as referee-prowess.
In order to discuss this, though, I need to go deep into the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only referees around? Great!
So, the eponymous witch-head is an indestructible artifact of pure evil and malevolence – but thankfully, it has been sealed away in a complex dedicated to goodness. But, alas, as is the way of the world, the hero who sealed away the witch-head’s bloodline did not strengthen. Instead, the current duke, Ymis, has to contend with a distant cousin named Dalan, who seeks to abduct his cousin Derica to solidify his claim on the title and overthrow Ymis. While he has managed to secure the dread witch-head, he can’t penetrate the warded estate. This is where the adventurers come in.
Basically, the PCs enter a complex designed by the forces of good, which has been overtaken by evil adventurers, with the darkness of the artifact slowly seeping into the designs of the dungeon. This makes the dungeon complex feel really, really unique: In a shrine, the PCs can watch the oscillation of forces of good and evil vie for dominion, with potent buffs and debuffs. The good nature of the complex also is reflected in rooms of purpose – potentially super-deadly trap-rooms that don’t kill smart PCs, courtesy of the good guys obviously including safety measures. These rooms of purpose reward smart PCs and represent one of my favorite aspects herein – the module emphasizes player skill over PC skill with many of the decisions, and smart players will soon realize that separating the actions of the evil pretender’s posse from the architecture of the complex itself will yield them a big advantage.
Speaking of which, the outlaws that accompany Dalan are actually 6 fully statted, proper NPCs, with spells prepared noted if applicable. They also have their very own motivations and dynamics and can, in the hands of a capable referee, make for a formidable dynamic encounter to complicate the exploration of the complex. One of the new monsters deserves special mention: The rancid is an otyugh-like, wicked thing that can cause long-time barfing (and thus lock down a careless group fast); it can also cause a really quick wasting disease, which inflicts 2d10 damage per hour…and needs a 14th level caster to cure. There are not many of these things in the dungeon, thankfully, but contracting the disease is pretty much a death sentence for the level. Not a big fan there. The second creature herein would be another somewhat dynamic encounter – a specialized golem that knows the secret doors of the place and looks like a multi-armed minotaur stalks the halls, adding a further complication to the proceedings. My favorite creature here, though, would be the prism ward – basically a pretty harmless, floating crystal that reflects light as super-deadly blasts, acting light a living light amplifier. One of my favorite traps herein is a wand of illumination, wedged in the wall, with a magic mouth (not formatted properly) appearing and speaking the trigger word, aiming at the creature. It’s clever and deadly.
So, beyond aforementioned, dynamic aspects, we have an uncommon kind of bottleneck, namely an underground lake that needs to be crossed. Careless players will bite off more than they can chew here – if the journey is not handled smartly, they may well fall. There’s a reason for this. Dalan has already been corrupted and all but consumed by the Witch-Head. While he has the potent staff of screams that may stun and deafen the PCs for a while, he also has a grand total of whopping 15 hit points, which means he can be pretty much one-shot-killed by a lucky PC. This pitiful, lone boss, separated from his formidable posse, is intentional, for the true climax here would pertain interacting with the artifact and not succumbing to its malevolent power. In a way, Dalan and his evil group are warnings to the prospective bearers of this horrid artifact. And yes, we get tight rules for its use. It demands a steep price indeed…
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, I noticed no serious issues. Layout adheres to the no-frills, classic 2-.column b/w-standard of the series and the pdf sports some nice, original b/w-artworks. The cartography of the complex is functional, if not impressive, and unfortunately sports no key-less player-friendly version for VTTs or printing out and cutting up. On the plus-side, the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Sometimes, less is more. James C. Boney’s second Advanced Adventure only covers a single dungeon level, as opposed to the Red Mausoleum’s three, but takes it time to properly develop the complex and its inhabitants. The different forces at work in the complex lend it a unique atmosphere, and the inclusion of basically a hostile adventurer group adds some serious spice to the proceedings. I also loved the intentionally anticlimactic BBEG, as this is something that many an author would have shirked away from. That being said, the relative brevity of the module does show a bit. Having a full patrol schedule/AI-like action/response-sequence for the hostile NPCs would have been the icing on the cake.
Still, all things considered, this represents a fun and flavorful dungeon with some creative hazards and challenges. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.
You can get this nice module here on OBS!