Crepuscular #1 – Sanctum of the Snail (DCC)
This first installment of the Crepuscular-‘zine clocks in at 52 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 48 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, if the front cover was no clear indicator, there is a certain amount of humor running through the supplement; not to the extent that this would be considered to be a joke-supplement, but very much in the way that it’ll make you smile at some of the components. There is a two-page comic-strip in the middle, which curiously is the one component of the pdf that I didn’t get a smile out of, but you can’t win them all, I guess.
Anyway, the ‘zine can be roughly grouped into 4 large articles: An adventure, a fully-realized patron, items of interest, and a henchman article. The supplement assumes the backdrop of the Nameless World, and more importantly, seems to particularly drive the players towards Xöthma-Ghül (which is hilarious to pronounce if you’re German and actually know how to pronounce Umlaute), one of the great seven cities, which is curiously devoted to Neutrality. I know, right?
So, this is old news for most judges, but it bears mentioning: One of the mostly untapped components of DCC is that it often focuses on the chaos = evil/bad, law equals good/righteous false dichotomy, which is very much true in many DCC-modules, as the PCs are pitted against suitably icky chaos cults. Now, granted, some patrons from e.g. Angels, Daemons & Beings Between, for example, break that mold, but that’s the general traction of the game, one obviously bred from the one-axis tradition. But what about Neutrality? In many ways, this magazine is the “make the Switzerland Option valid” of DCC-supplements, and offers some genuinely cool angles regarding the all but completely neglected Neutrality.
Now, for the crunchiest part of the supplement, let us talk about the 30 henchman that can be found in Xöthma-Ghül’s vagabond district. Each of them gets a number, (for d30 rolls), a list of gear, brief words that help you roleplay them (“snarky, greedy for gems and jewels”, for example), a weekly salary listed, and full combat-relevant stats. Cool: These are not simply stats: The henchpersons come with unique abilities, like being capable of offsetting item degradation. Most are “serious” characters, but there also are some genuinely awesome, outré ones: Meh-Mahg-Mohm, for example, is the champion of NEUTRALITY! Traits: Dispassionate, collects insects. And yes, the allcaps are taken from the book. This is efficient humor right here. Did I mention Slipperfoot, the giant weasel? Or Dwargyr Tooms, the polite and saturnine ghoul porter? The pixie fan-girl that regenerates in direct sunlight? Or Quvark, the surly, germaphobe humanoid platypus? Perhaps you need a snail-wrangler or a mushroom priestess? Know that you can find them among these NPCs. This whole section is pure win, as far as I’m concerned, an exercise of humor and imagination with truly minimalist means.
The magic items, both of which get their own b/w-artworks, are two – and quality trumps quantity here: We have the Flail of the Snail, which may be wielded by wizards, and neutral spellcasters can channel spells through the weapon, gaining +2 to their spellcasting rolls. Additionally, the weapon may have its head fired up to 20 ft. away, as a ranged attack, by pressing one button. The other button retracts the chain. This explicitly allows for grappling hook and whip tricks that the judge deems feasible. Item number 2 would be the Learned Slug-in-a-Jar of Cornelius Plunk. The item is exactly what it sounds like – a very smart slug suspended in magical liquid that protects it from the ravages of time, but not from ennui and existential boredom. The slug has a 5-in-6 chance to decipher writing, and pressing the head to the jar has the slug whisper the translation – but doing so is dangerous, and may result in ability score damage. Additionally, 1/day, an individual can spend a luck point and ask the judge a yes-or-no question, which the judge must answer truthfully. The slug does hate its life and adventurers, though: Each time it is used, there is a chance its angst reaches critical levels, to the point where it actually explodes. I love this item.
The new patron (illustrated in a rather awesome manner), would be none other than Blorgamorg, the Chthonic Snail, patient and wise, and a force of Neutrality! With gem-eyes in the stalks, minerals and minerals one the rune-studded shell, the image is rather cool. The Invoke Patron results are really cool as well: “Blessing” foes with the speed of snails, calling mighty hail snails, or even a grail snail…the creatures are cool. I mean, sure, they won’t win any Agility contests or the like, but their stats are solid and their effects fun. We even get brief descriptive texts for them! The patron features a fully-developed and pretty extensive 6-entry patron taint list that does its job well: It’s not too punitive, but certainsly weird, icky and potentially inconvenient as all hell without making adventuring impossible. The write-up does also feature proper Spellburn effects, and three spells, one for each of the levels 1-3.
Snail Mail conjures one of more messenger snails that slowly (it might take a few weeks) reach the recipients of the message, and then proceed to recite it. And yes, they include return answers. This is outrageously hilarious in all the right ways: Picture it, a snail arriving at your study, essentially growing a mouth and talking to you. XD The better the spell, the longer the message can be: At 30-31, you can dictate up to 300 pages (!!) of message! Yep, the snail can basically act as a correspondent audiobook. This is absolutely fantastic. Shell Shelter nets you a backpack-sized snail shell that only weighs 5 lbs., regardless of contents, and starting at 20-21, it can be used, bingo, as a shelter, with more powerful versions including a staff of 0-level snail butlers, courtier slugs and clam dandies. Clam dandies. XD Suffice to say, AC and HP of the shelter increase. Finally, we have the Love Dart spell, which begins as a standard ranged attack that is more efficient versus Lawful and Chaotic targets; the attack also infests the targets with sluggy parasites: After being hit, the targets have a short span of time before needing to make a Fort-save: On a failure, a variety of snail-creatures are birthed, painfully, from them. This is a bit icky, but fits the theme. Summa summarum: A winner of a cool, awesome patron!
Okay, so, it’s time to talk about the adventure, the 0-level funnel for 12 – 18 characters, the “Sanctum of the Snail.” The module comes with a full-color isometric map (unfortunately sans player-friendly iteration), read-aloud text for each of the 23 keyed locales, and uses a rather handy drawing to illustrate one of the challenges herein; as with the rest of the offering, there is a surprising amount of the artwork of the style also featured on the cover. The module includes means to get a patron bond with Blorgamorg, and there are instances where the module allows players to try out class abilities. As far as DCC funnels are concerned, it is potentially deadly, but not to an undue extent: The usual number of deaths are very much possible, but unless your players botch big time, a TPK is relatively unlikely. The module does come with a nice 1-page handout.
All righty, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
Okay, only judges around? Great! So, the module begins as the characters’ ship towards Xöthma-Ghul shipwrecks, leaving them stranded atop a rocky outcropping; the bodies of the deceased , including a table, make for some impromptu starting equipment before the PCs are attacked by shark-boys, essentially carnivorous shark-like humanoids. It becomes apparent, that, in the long run, it is prudent to explore the strange edifice found on the rock – and thus a vast set of stair leads down. These stairs, as a path, metaphorically represent Neutrality as a valid position, as they neatly bisect the waters at the floor-level, with one half being the waters of chaos, the other half those of law. On their way down, the PCs may platform-hop (including potentially lethal fall below) to a secret cavern and shrine to Blorgamorg, where an avatar of the patron might make for a valid quest-giver for the complex. It should be noted, though, that this is an entirely optional section! If no PC wants to brave the jumping section, the module works just fine, it barely loses this aspect of the potential development. Anyhow, the dungeon is snail-themed in the most rewarding manner: As they move below, snails will attack and attempt to push them off the vast stair, and throughout, a snail-theme is rather prominent: There are slug-men, for example; there is a swarm of carnivorous snails, etc.
The sanctum has plenty of volatile little angles, and PCs can acquire mutations, such as mushrooms growing from their head: Pruning these isn’t smart, as it causes damage until they regrow, but on the plus-side, the PC no longer requires sustenance. The complex also features e.g. the remnants of a deceased giant turtle, which might put the PCs in conflict with giant tapeworms if they’re not careful, to mention just one potential point of conflict. Strange talismans and similar items have a great meta-function, as mentioned before, allowing the PCs to potentially take a gander at some class abilities, and even the un-dead have this high-energy comedy angle. Laughing skulls that have infectious laughter? Heck yeah! The most significant piece of treasure they may find would be a magical, sentient axe obsessed with feeding and grandeur, hidden in someone’s well-concealed crypt. This place is also the choking point of the scenario, if you will: To enter the secret area, up to 4 individuals worth of weight are required for the platform to move down; if the weight decreases, it moves back up. Careless and particularly bad groups of players may end up imprisoned below without a way up. That being said, in comparison to many DCC-modules, that is a harmless issue, and I can’t picture an experienced group of players (or even a moderately competent one) being TPK’d by it. The complex, other than the snail-leitmotif, isn’t exactly strong in the narrative department, but it doesn’t have to be: It PLAYS well, with plenty of interaction points, environmental hazards, interesting enemies, and finally, a errant ex-devotee of Blorgamorg, a sorceress fallen to the lure of chaos, as the final boss. It also should be noted that traps make sense in placement and internal logic, with only one trap in the very end being a bit nasty: The final room contains magical paintings that teleport you out, and one dumps you in an air-less chaos-planet 666 lightyears away; another dumps you in a friendly village. Since the pictures show where they lead, and since this is a funnel, I’m good with the one painting being a save-less game-over. It’s one based on player-skill, after all.
Editing is very good on a formal and rules-language level, and so is formatting, though there is one curious deviation from DCC’s standards, namely an inclusion of a colon after “DC.” It doesn’t hurt, but struck me as odd. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, with drawings of slime on the sides, and hilariously doofy-looking slugs at the bottom having the page-numbers in their shells. The handout and cartography are full-color-pieces and aesthetically consistent with the plethora of b/w-artworks throughout. My one gripe here pertains to the map: The absence of a player-friendly map is a bit annoying in an otherwise superb offering; similarly, the map lacks scale and grid, which makes it not suitable for VTTs. On the plus-side, the pdf comes fully bookmarked. Unfortunetyl, I don’t own the physical version, so I can’t comment on its virtues or lack thereof.
Joshua LH Burnett’s “Crepuscular” is one phenomenal little ‘zine; from the 70s-style black-light-poster-ish cover artwork to the content throughout, it features a genuinely funny atmosphere that will bring joy to all but the most dour of tables, all without being a joke-product. This is particularly impressive when considering that the author handled writing, art, and layout. The book is fully useful, and excels in all departments: The module plays very well, the items are cool, and the henchmen? PERFECT. Were it not for the omission of player-friendly maps, this’d get my “Best of”-tag as well, as it represents one of the most impressive ‘zine-style offerings I’ve seen, particularly for a first offering. I certainly hope we’ll get to see another installment of Crepuscular at one point. It is evident, from the proper editing to the obvious playtesting that went into the module, that this is simply an impressive, highly-recommended offering. If you like your fantasy gonzo without going off the rails, if you need a little levity in your DCC-game, or if you just want some NEUTRALITY! In this age of hardened dichotomies, well, then Crepuscular is for! I know I adore it! 5 stars + seal of approval!
You can get this awesome little ‘zine here on OBS!
You can get the print version, while it lasts, here!
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