Pulp Weird Encounters 1: Tomb of the Squonk & The Silent Army (DCC)
This supplement clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
While this supplement is called “encounter series”, the encounters featured within could just as easily be pictured as pretty much two small modules that could be slotted in between longer modules. The presentation of the adventures within adhere to the layout-conventions of Goodman games, with general features noted in the beginning, and fonts used akin to Goodman Games’ modules. Similarly, we have detailed read-aloud texts for the respective encounters. The two modules both have functional isometric maps with grids and scale noted, but no player-friendly versions are provided.
“Tomb of the Squonk”, the first of the scenarios within, is penned by Daniel J. Bishop and is intended for 3rd level characters. The second encounter, Charlie Scott’s “The Silent Army”, is intended for characters level 1 -3.
All right, this is as far as I can go before diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All righty, only judges around? Great, so let’s take a look at “Tomb of the Squonk first. Nominally, this is an eight-room mini-dungeon, which starts when the heroes are approached by the eponymous Squonk-thing that can btw. be seen on the cover: Turns out that a being named Arvind Shar has been cursed/trapped in the body and wants the PCs to save him. This leads to aforementioned mini-dungeon…and oh boy. There is a cool critter, a snake that flickers through time, with initiative-decreasing venom. And traps. Oh boy, traps. It begins 5 feet inside the complex, when a massive, sealing bronze block will crash down, locking PCs inside, potentially separating the party (always fun for GMs) or even crashing PCs to pulp.
This is but the first of these, and there will be quite a few more. How can the blocks be reset (they can’t be disarmed)? Well, in the dungeon’s LAST ROOM. To get there, though, the PCs will also have to cross several magical rooms that are sadistic, to say the least: There are, for example, basically microwave-like fields that will toast you. On the plus side, wet towels etc. do help sprinting through them, but on the downside, they also can only be turned off, you guessed it, in the last room. Did I mention the fact that, being magical, they kinda lack means to properly telegraph them? And that they’re both vibration and lifesense-based, so PCs flying above the floor can’t bypass them either? The culmination of this dickish design-paradigm is the entrance to the final room, which, when not previously examined, will teleport the lower 3 feet of any being entering away, killing most creatures instantly. No save. This is not telegraphed either.
The second combat deals btw. with the PCs facing down the eponymous squonk – you see, Arvind Shar is actually a member of the trans-dimensional species of patricians, a sadistic and cruel lot that engages in dimensions- and reality-spanning games of humiliation and intrigue – and in the penultimate room, Shar’s original body lies, splayed and dismembered…whereupon he tries to paralyze a PC to inhabit that PC’s body. It gets better: The final room that can turn off those deadly traps? It has a device to fiddle with, but no true way to determine what does what; looting the inlaid gemstones may be very unwise, considering the lethality of the complex.
…I honestly don’t know what happened here. Daniel J. Bishop is usually a pretty sure candidate for providing top-notch material, but this dungeon is just frustrating and dickish. Maybe by design, but in contrast to e.g. “Death Frost Doom” or “The Grinding Gear”, this little complex never really earns its lethality, and just feels arbitrary and cruel, particularly considering the sucky and meager rewards. The temporal snake is solid and interesting, as is the squonk, but the complex needs some rewiring by the judge in order to…well…not suck.
The second encounter herein, “The Silent Army”, has a creepy premise: A dozen men, standing perfectly still, have their gazes turned towards the west, while a crying kid tugs at one man’s garments – to no avail. These are members of the “Silent Army”, and closer examination yields a strange, silverfish nodule laid into the back of their heads. They look towards the direction where the hermit-wizarad Lazarax lairs, and thus, the local townsfolk pay the PCs to investigate, preferably saving the afflicted men. Investigating the hills yields an impact crater, speaking of something from the stars falling down – and indeed, inside, there are strange alien devices and the goat-legged wizard attempts to deal with the PCs….but something is off.
If the PCs don’t investigate, they may be in for more than they can take, as “The Silent Army” activates and they are stalked by the hermit-wizard’s true master. In the caves, they can find a recording device-like prism…and the perpetrator of the crimes against the townsfolk, an alien monster called Tsinchin, who may well integrate PCs into its growing army of slave-drones. Defeating the thing ends the threat, for now, but the somber ending of the module sent a little shiver down my spine… The tsinchin, just fyi, comes with a neat 1-page b/w-artwork as well. I enjoyed this one, in spite of its brevity, though I did wish that there was a bit more complex to explore here.
editing and formatting are good on a formal level, very good on a rules language level. I noticed no rules-snafus, but a few typo-level glitches. Layout adheres to the same two-column b/w-standard that Goodman Games’ supplements use and established. The b/w-artworks provided are nice, and the isometric cartography is solid and features squares and grids. No player-friendly, unlabeled versions of the maps are provided. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks, one per encounter, but not more.
Huh. I bought this for Daniel J. Bishop’s encounter/mini-adventure, and ended up absolutely hating that one – it’s a solid scavenging ground, but I wouldn’t want to run this as written. It’s just dickish in an unfair way, and doesn’t properly implement this notion of fairness that usually tempers even the most deadly of DCC adventures. I have no idea what happened here. Mr. Bishop usually delivers only excellence.
I wasn’t familiar with Charlie Scott’s work prior to reading this, but thankfully, his encounter really rocked. Mechanically, it’s not too interesting, granted, but the atmosphere evoked actually makes this one genuinely creepy, and the denouement-text actually sent a shiver down my spine. That’s a good sign, and as a whole, this encounter is a great and dangerous one.
How to rate this, then? Well, this is pretty much the definition of a mixed bag (I’d give adventure #1 2 stars, the second one 4 stars), though I’d have to concede that “The Silent Army” feels a bit shorter in actual gameable content. Still, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.
You can get this inexpensive pdf here on OBS!