Level Drain #1: The Pillars of Pang (DCC)
This is the first installment of releases by Level Drain, a collective of creative people living with mental illness, and comes with a heartfelt dedication. The pdf clocks in at 2 pages of content, with only a small paragraph of SRD-information.
The module itself adheres very much to a one-page dungeon aesthetic, including an isometric map – and a surprising amount of information jammed onto the page. The adventure depicted here is suitable for 0-level and 1st level groups.
The following contains SPOILERS. Only judges should keep reading.
Only judges around?
The presentation adheres to a stark aesthetic, with white boxes, a black background, and the pencil-drawn artworks supplementing an overall artpunk aesthetic that evoked, at least for me, associations with some of Scrap Princess’ artworks, with the games from Harvester (like Downfall and The Cat Lady) – and it resonated. It feels authentic, in that it gives an aesthetic representation to the sense of how the abyss of mental illness can feel – fitting, considering that Pang is a psyche – a kind of plane that exemplifies an emotion – here, despair and anguish come alive.
The road to pang is frequented by pangolin-pilgrims, and this little supplement depicts a 3-room excerpt from this alien landscape, where a monolith hums of despair, where a seemingly endless ladder looms. Foul white worms wriggle, and there is “the Creature”, whose write-up takes up the second page. This being has a head for each adventurer, which may manifest a nightmare, or represent another of d7 associated traits; the being also has a breath weapon with d5 effects.
Editing and formatting re very good, particularly considering that this is PWYW. Layout is, as noted, very artistic, with stark b/w-artworks and the layout helping to drive home the desolate atmosphere of the place. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.
This is, so far, the only installment of Level Drain I know of. This is a genuine pity as far as I’m concerned, for it is evident that the folks that created this know what they’re doing, know what they’re writing about. Art from adversity. It rings true. It is a supplement that shows a level of authenticity and compassion that is impossible to fake. If your life, like mine, has been touched by mental illness of some sort, at some time during your life, I hope you have emerged from it – not untouched, for that is impossible. Scarred, mayhap, but stronger for it. If you have made such an experience, firsthand or secondhand, you may have developed a radar of sorts for a certain aesthetic, for a certain type of writing that draws its strength, that draws its creativity, from the sheer boundless dark. I know that I have learned to draw strength from dark and macabre media, from Nietzschean abyss-gazing, if you will. It looks back, sure – but it’ll do so anyway, so staring it in the eye and facing it down can help. Some folks, at least. And yes, roleplaying games, as noted in my review of Black Sun Deathcrawl, can act as a means of conveying how e.g. depression can feel, how you can use the medium to evoke genuine understanding. Writing down the darkness, binding it on paper – art from adversity. It is a powerful tool.
This form of catharsis is powerful, and it is, at least in my opinion, impossible to fake. This module, humble and short though it may be, does have exactly this kind of resonance. Much like Silent Hill or similar forms of media, it manages to achieve this ephemeral bleakness that is hard to describe, and harder to rate. Many folks won’t like it and consider it grimdark, while others will love it – it is, much like abyss-gazing, an acquired taste. I for one, firmly belong in the second category, and while I bemoan both the brevity of this supplement and the fact that there isn’t more from Level Drain and on this strange land for me to read, considering the fair PWYW-nature of this pdf, I will award this 4.5 stars, rounded up. Definitely worth leaving a tip for – I know I did.
You can get this supplement for PWYW here on OBS!