Blades Against Death (DCC)
This module clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
It should be noted that this module contains 3 pages of handouts – one depicting one of the more complex environments in b/w, and the other two provide full-color renditions of special cards that feature in the plot of the module. It should be noted that the module does also contain a full-page B/w-artwork of another key-scene, which is a handout in anything but name. As you could glean from the page-count, this review is based on the 2nd printing of the module.
Nominally, this adventure is intended for 6 – 10 4th level characters, though it should be noted that it is a BRUTAL adventure that may well result in a TPK. While difficult, the stakes do warrant this difficulty, and the adventure is fair in its brutal challenges posed. A well-rounded group is very much suggested, and the players should exercise sense and care when faced with the dangers within. The scales are high – as you could glean from the title, this module is about saving someone from the grasp of Death. If you’re groaning now, be aware that the module does acknowledge that there are bound to be multiple deities of death – the entity featured herein is just one of them, so no, this will not wreck your cosmology. I enjoy this premise per se, as I’ve been a huge enemy of the notion of the no-penalty death that many more current systems have employed. Death, in my game, tends to be final and requires a quest of serious severity, like the one presented herein, to beat. In that way, my aesthetics are very much aligned with DCC’s “Quest for it”-mentality, regardless of the actual game I’m playing. In case you do not have a dead PC or beloved NPC on your hands, the module does offer for an alternative hook, but ultimately, said alternate hook is pretty weak.
This module, as a default, is set within the city of Punjar, and does have some overlap with “Jewels of the Carnifex” – the Carnifex is actually related to Death, so if you’ve played that masterpiece, you’ll have a secondary angle. As an aside: Can we please have a Punjar boxed set?? Like, now? There have been few cities in fantasy gaming that I wanted to see detailed so badly.
But I digress. The module does provide rumors and information for PCs doing their legwork, and those groups failing to do so will be hard-pressed, so yeah – if by now you haven’t learned that your legwork matters in DCC, this will teach you – the painful way. The rumors and information is, in an interesting angle, grouped by class of those asked, and, as always, an encounter table is provided.
The module provides a ton of amazing read-aloud text oozing flavor, and begins as the PCs navigate a maze of tents and stalls towards the abode of the Witch of Saulin – but beyond that, anything I can relay would be firmly routed in the realm of SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only judges around? The witch provides a reading using the card-handouts included, and depending on the card drawn, the PCs get different prophecies – and, later, benefits! And yes, they’ll need them. Badly. You see, Death has two divine daughters – the Carnifex and Máni, the latter of which would be a moon-deity. The Carnifex’ shrine in the Charnel pits contains the entry to the realm of Punjar’s Death, but to have any hope of living through this region, the PCs will need to acquire the legendary Argent Falx a mythical blade bestowed upon Máni’s cult at full moon, only to vanish once more with the moon’s phases. Tomorrow, there’ll be a full moon. The clock is ticking.
The first massive part of the module, then, would be a heist, and it is one of the best heist adventures I have read – PERIOD. From multiple means of egress and strategies (including infiltration, sneaking in, disguises, brute force, etc.) to the fact that it depicts the ziggurat of Máni, the religious service and the priesthood in a truly amazing manner: Blending genuine magic and divine grace with sleight of hand and components of the ritual provided by the priest-hood, this is amazing: A mirrored shaft, for example, may be a means of getting inside, but it *is* constructed to generate blinding light when the full moon ascends…oh, and if you’re like me and LOVE heists, it should also be noted that there is a “radiant victory”-clause: If the PCs manage to pull off the heist without casualties, they are rewarded for it! Huge kudos there!
In order to pass into the veils of death, the PCs will need to use the argent falx (or reasoning!) to placate the raging spirit of Moira and gain access to the realm of death – provided they can survive exploring the brutal realm of death and cruel mockery of an undead court held by the lich-like Rastvik and his undead cronies! His realm, a more conventional dungeon, btw., would be illustrated rather well. If the PCs managed to bypass Moira in some way, they will be faced with Eris and Death – a game of chance with the cards separating them from triumph or death…and yes, while cheating is possible, you’d better be lucky and know what you’re doing! Either way, this will remain in the memory of your players for years to come!
The bonus adventure in the second edition, “The Abbot of the Woods”, is also penned by Harley Stroh, and is intended for characters level 1 – 3. It is a brief dungeon exploration that focuses on a high-priest turned sect-guru, who sought immortality by staving off the 5 dooms of mankind. As such, the remnants of his complex contains pieces of the abbot and the dooms – and clever players will have a huge advantage here: You see, the dungeon teaches by showing how the abbot, in a way, achieved immortality by staving off the dooms, but also drove himself insane – the relicts that may be found can thus potentially end his tortured and maddened immortality, yes, but it also can free him. This, alas, will make him possess the whole damn dungeon as a twisted god-thing– and each of the relics can be used to weaken, and, finally, slay the abbot. This is actually really clever, and provided the PCs pissed off Death in “Blades Against Death”, may be a cool sidetrek to get back on the reaper’s good side…if that can be said to exist…
Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Goodman Games’ two-column b/w-standard, and the b/w-artworks included are awesome. As always, the cartography in b/w is pure excellence, but particularly the heist really should have offered a player-friendly map for clever PCs to attain. The lack of player-friendly maps sucks. Speaking of which: The adventure has no bookmarks, which is a big no-go for the electronic version. I strongly suggest printing this or getting the print copy.
Harley Stroh’s “Blades against Death” is a masterpiece, pure and simple. It is one of the best heist-modules and Sword & Sorcery yarns I have ever read; while dipping its toes in the high-fantasy side of the sword & sorcery pond, it manages to deliver its content with such panache, that everything remains plausible without straining your sense of disbelief. From the awesome heist to the brutal dungeon, this module delivers with all of its components, managing to evoke an atmosphere that blew me away, that made me cackle with glee. The bonus module just adds icing on top of the awesome cake as far as I’m concerned, and content-wise, this should be deemed to be a must-own book for DCC-judges, and a recommendation for purchase even beyond the system. The module is just brilliant, and the flavor it oozes is fantastic. If you’re really picky and just want t play this using an electronic device, detract a star for the lack of bookmarks and player-friendly maps, but if you print out your modules or go for print, consider this to be a must-own 5 stars + seal of approval gem, a module well worth the rarely awarded “best of”-tag as a testament to its awesomeness.
Harley Stroh delivers once more, in spades – now, dear Goodman Games-crew, can we please get that Punjar boxed set? Please?? I so need that in my life…
You can get this glorious gem and pit your wits and blades against death here on OBS!
Missed the awesome Jewels of the Carnifex? You can find it here!
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