This module clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page inspirational music (which partially reads like a metal playlist I’d make – including favorites of mine like Amorphis, Enslaved, Nile and Shape of Despair – metalheads, check it out!), 2 pages of advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 41 pages of content. The pdf is accompanied by jpg versions of the maps featured herein as well as jpgs of the graphical representation of a puzzle featured in this pdf. Front and back cover in full color all included as jpgs as well.
All right, so if Neoplastic Press’ superb Teratic Tome (Seriously, check it out – it’s PWYW for the pdf, print at cost via lulu for the amazing hardcover!) was no indicator for you and if you’re not tipped off by the less than subtle name (“SlaughterGrid” could be the title of a Cannibal Corpse- or Bloodbath-song…), this is a module for adults only. This does not belong in the hands of kids (though I would have laughed my behind off about it in puberty…).
Reading the backstory (which you can fill in via randomly determined components) makes this clear: You see, SlaughterGrids are massive constructs created by the insane and genocidal halfling race under the command of their patron deity Elizabeth Lack-heart…some readers may think that sounds familiar. Yep, this shares a mythology with the background information hinted at in the Teratic Tome and the tone here is dark…though not necessarily so in play.
We get lists of suggested random encounters for the levels of the complex of SlaughterGrid and begin with the PCs exploring the mini-hexcrawl conveniently provided before the module’s heart, the dungeon-crawl through SlaughterGrid, begins. The pdf summarizes basic thieving abilities and how they’re notated herein, chances for lifting heavy objects and a basic mechanic to outwit creatures and lure them into traps. Not the biggest fan there since the engine (+1 per cleverly used item) can be cheesed horribly. The standard currency would be gold, though LotFP referees will have no issues due to the presence of a particular type of being in the dungeon – but more on that in the SPOILER-section.
Magic item-wise, the multipurpose magical flatworm eggs that interact in interesting manners with stimuli, invite experimentation – they can be used as bombs, to float, generate light or darkness…Pretty cool.
Now there is no way for me to state this without minor spoilers, so there we go: The theme of this dungeon is reproduction and unbirthing/peri-natal anxiety, somewhat akin to a representation of some of H.R. Giger’s works. The dungeon is intentionally seriously over the top, bloody, gory and uses imagery that must be considered to be sexual in nature. Artworks depict one of the BBEGs with a vagina dentata that extends over most of her torso and another monster basically consists of genitals. If that type of imagery offends you, then steer clear of this module.
Okay, the disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it. This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great! The landscape here is not nice. The hexcrawl will pit the PCs in combat with several of the new monstrosities depicted herein and already has hints of the reproduction system leitmotif – namely the theme of monsters requiring material to build nests. Humanoid encounters are not better, for the area is known for the war between Silver and Gold, equally despicable civilizations that practice human sacrifice and worse. Granted, the war’s over, but paladins will have a hard time here: Visiting a the domain of the victors, the PCs can try to thwart the sacrifice of children, but will incur the ire of quite a few folks if they do so. Elves and halflings encountered are about as nice as the monsters (in fact, some monsters are nicer) and an assassin may actually prove to be the most civilized traveling companion the PCs can find here. There is serious wonder to be found within these hexes as well, though – like a zone where a chunk of earth floats, affected by reverse gravity…and there are…interesting magical boots to be found here…but also a potentially hilariously lethal death. It should be noted that the hexcrawl-section does sport suggestions for additional hexes, which is a nice bonus.
Now entering SlaughterGrid is done via a rather inconspicuous entrance…which would be the equivalent of the buried, enormous, roughly female-shaped automaton. The entrance to SlaughterGrid would be the automaton’s pelvic mound, with level one being the equivalent in structure of the automaton’s genitalia regarding room-structure etc. Once the PCs have stumbled into the complex, the ceiling drops – they are imprisoned in the complex and have to make their way through SlaughterGrid to see the light of the sun again.
Which brings me to the complex itself: SlaughterGrid has three levels – Uterus, Bowels and Belly, with the leitmotifs being pretty much evident right there. The dungeon sports quite a bunch of amorphids, basically icky oozy foes that can be bottled and weaponized and a specific parasite-like thing that is responsible for the absence of clusters of gold: The mighty Gold-whore (aka aurumeretrix) can smell gold and are drawn to it – clever adventurers that notice this peculiarity can employ these powerful predators to thin the lines of their foes.
Each of the rooms has a descriptive section and some game-relevant information below in bullet-points. While this makes the presentation pretty economical, it also breaks the flow of the overall text and sometimes, subsequent bullet-points elaborate on earlier ones, which makes the implementation of them feel a bit haphazard. This represents my most pronounced formal gripe against the module. Also: Etched messages are sometimes in bullet-points, sometimes in the other text – as a whole, the concept hasn’t been implemented too well.
But back to level 1: Here, the PCs can make first experiences with the deadly slimes and undead that inhabit the place…as a relatively helpful cave goblin potentially notes, undead kill you and you stay that way…which brings me to the most pronounced selling point of the module, as far as I’m concerned: You see, in level 1, the PCs can find an ovum. Whenever they die within the complex, and they WILL die, A LOT, they’ll be reborn, naked and bereft of negative conditions etc. from the ovum. This thing can even be taken from its place and lobbed around the dungeon! Downside, though: Each resurrection carries a significant chance of horrible mutation, as determined via a massive table.
Within the bowels, goblinoids, orcs and the like worship the grossly mutated and utterly delusional Kaiva Grey-Nail, one of the villains of the dungeon and aforementioned magic-user with the body-sized maw in the middle that extends to her vagina – said magic-user has underwent the process so often, she now is barely recognizable as humanoid. Meanwhile the exit lies within the belly, the domain of dread pseuod-otyughs and crypto-otyughs that worship the progenitor: This of that…thing as an oversized vagina fish-slug-thing with breast-like sacs and penis-hands. No, I am not kidding you. This thing has a means to exit the complex, but demands an evil oath…or violence ensues. The aforementioned puzzle pertains a ziggurat with symbols, btw. – solving it can also allow for a means to exit the place.
Now, there are a couple of things to be aware of: This dungeon is gleefully, dickishly lethal. Save-or-die is pretty common among the obstacles and creatures encountered and the PCs will be pretty outclassed if they don’t take care. The “unlimited lives”-aspect and the mutation can change PCs horribly or provide some seriously strong abilities. And yes, the table is truly 100 entries strong. We also get pregens and a brief name generator. Know what my issue with this module is, though? It’s not the visuals or the difficulty. It’s that SlaughterGrid has this amazing premise…and only uses it to justify being a meatgrinder of a module. The ovum and resurrection-trick could be used for a plethora of unique puzzles: “Okay, so, if I draw this level, the corridor will reconfigure and I’ll b trapped here, starving to death…but I can just give you my stuff, kill myself, reemerge and the path’s clear!” Why is there no correlation between dying to one of SlaughterGrid’s slimes and the mutations you get when emerging from the ovum? “We have to pass that fall of lava – so let’s find one of those red slimes, get killed and see if we get fire immunity…” Sure, this would be comical and not very serious…but that’s invariably the tone the module will get anyways, unless your players can take this much more seriously than mine did. In short: The resurrection mechanic…isn’t used for anything interesting and its presence feels like an unrealized gimmick, used to justify excessive deadly force. Heck, the pdf MENTIONS that the ovum can be used for creative solutions to problems, even gives examples…but the module, frankly, doesn’t need that. You can brute force it.
Same goes for NPCs. The pdf makes no sense there. See, the goblins, trolls, otyughs…once killed, they supposedly just stay dead? Same goes for Kaiva? I don’t get it. Kaiva obviously HAS resurrected multiple times, so why doesn’t this work for other living beings that are not the PCs? Or if it is SUPPOSED to work for them as well, why is that mentioned not even once in the whole text? If NPCs are supposed to also regenerate thus from the ovum, is there a sequence in which it rebirthes the fallen? If you start to logically think about this module, its interesting and creative premise comes apart pretty hard, which is what made this not work for me. Sure, you *can* add all these things in…but why bother? It’s a solid dungeon, but it also has some serious gaps in its internal logic.
As mentioned before, the module contains a lot of creatures (same format as in the Teratic Tome).
Editing and formatting are good on both a formal and rules-level – while both could be improved upon, you generally have a pretty decent idea how things should work and I noticed no overly jarring accumulation of typos. Layout adheres to a b/w 2-column standard and is pretty printer-friendly. As mentioned before, the artworks in b/w are well-made, but provide images that are not for everyone. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. As a pretty big detriment: The okay maps don’t come with player-friendly versions sans secret rooms or map key – you’ll have to draw them yourself if you want those gone.
This could have been a delightfully icky and bonkers, utterly over-the-top gorefest of death and rebirth with smart puzzles a truly amazing environment and stomach-turning strategies the PCs could use. This has all the makings of one of these truly unique, inspiring dungeons with its own rules and tricks that work only within it. Unfortunately, SlaughterGrid falls really flat of its own premise and instead devolves into a pretty fun, lethal dungeon-crawl. But that’s all it offers when it could easily have gone for excellence. A halfway capable referee can make this a disturbingly slimy gem of a module – all the building blocks are here. What has been assembled from them, alas, didn’t blow me away.
Now, I got this module back when it still cost $3.33. For a commercial module…I’d consider it to be an awesome concept, seriously hampered by its execution and thus settle on a verdict of 3 stars. However, since then, the module has become FREE, its PoD option an at-cost offering. And honestly, I know A LOT of PWYW modules and content that wished it was this creative and well-done. Being FREE increases the value of this module for me and grants it an additional + 0.5 stars. Now, due to the structural issues, I’d frankly usually round down for this one…but at the same time, a referee committed to working with the module, expanding and revising it, may well consider this to be an amazingly wicked gem. It is hence, its free nature and my in dubio pro reo policy that I will thus round up to 4 stars.
You can get this module for FREE here on OBS!
You can get the at-cost print-version here on lulu!