The Demon Stones (OSR)
This massive module clocks in at 78 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/author’s notes on making this, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of notes, 1 page of SRD, 2 pages MonkeyBlood Design glyph, 1 page occupied by a tentacle skull, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 68 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Okay, first things first: This adventure is intended for 4 characters of 4th – 5th level, and it was the first big production of Glynn Seal’s MonkeyBlood Design, who handled everything but editing and cover illustration.
The module was playtested, credits its playtesters, and it shows. In many ways, I consider this to be the first big production by the company…and oh boy does it do things right that many others get wrong: The two pages of counters to represent the monsters and adversaries? They’re nice enough. However, where I seriously started drooling, was with the cartography: Not only do we get a LOT of it, we get player-friendly versions of everything. Yes, this includes not only the dungeons, but also lavishly-depicted roadside encounters! Fully mapped! Player-friendly! Heck yeah! Now, the village featured herein is the one exception – its map is the only one that comes only with a keyed version, but considering the module’s plot, I can kinda live with it, even though I don’t get why the pdf-version, which is layered, fyi, doesn’t at least feature that – don’t get me wrong: Having a version sans key would have been better, but at least it doesn’t spoil anything.
Speaking of which: There are two types of player-friendly maps: The ones that do the minimum (remove numbers and the like), and the ones that go one step beyond. This book features the latter. What do I mean by this? Well, not only are secret door “S”s excised, there are proper walls here, so if you’re using VTTs, or if you’re like me and cut up maps and hand them out, then this is AWESOME. Serious kudos for getting that right! Another aspect this gets right: I own the perfect-bound softcover version of the Pathfinder version of the book, and it properly spells the module’s name on the spine. It may be a small thing, but it’s something I appreciate.
Now, regarding themes, this obviously deals with meteorites, but if you’re thinking automatically about Lovecraftiana or mythos creatures, let me assure you that the module is smarter than doing the obvious.
Regarding themes, the module is billed as “medieval”, and it certainly fits that bill regarding its aesthetics and theme: The module does feature magic, but said magic is not commonplace or something everybody knows about; furthermore, while using fantastic tropes, these are always grounded. If you need a comparison, my best direct references would be Greyhawk’s grittier side, or Raging Swan Press’ offerings.
Rules-wise, we have an adherence to S&W (Swords & Wizardry) here, with ascending and descending AC noted, single saves, etc. Special bilities are properly called out, and traps are codified properly as well.
The adventure’s new monsters come with unique b/w-artworks, and the same holds true for the NPCs. Apart from important characters and the like, stats are placed throughout the module where they’re needed, which renders running this a pretty comfortable enterprise for the GM. In contrast to the PFRPG-version, we use the space that S&W’s compacter rules offer to present a whle page of stats for non-essential NPCS! Kudos for going the extra mile here. This is NOT one of those bad conversions we can see so often from 5e; this was done with obvious love for old-school aesthetics, and knowledge of the system. You won’t find references to skill check DCs or the like, and the adversaries have been properly adjusted. The module is harder in this iteration, due to PCs not being as strong, but that was to be expected.
The depiction of aforementioned village deserves special mention: Not only do we get names and behavior patterns/oddities for the NPCs, we also get a few sentences for important information to paraphrase. The attention to detail here is far beyond the usual. The module comes with atmospheric read-aloud text. More importantly, it does something I didn’t know I wanted to see, but which I adored: In the dungeon, above the read-aloud text, we have values: The first value denoted how far below the surface the keyed locale is; then, we get values for width, length and height, and a few key notes for the construction, overall feeling, and immediate sensory inputs – so if you’re in the camp that prefers terse, bullet-pointed lists, this has you covered. Even if you like the read-aloud text, this lets you reference dimensions in one glance without consulting the map. It’s a great piece of convenience for the GM.
Anyhow, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great!
The PCs are contacted by a mysterious dwarf, who may seem kinda crazy – Rhuin Graystone babbles about “The Great Basalt One” sending him on a sacred quest to hand a holy symbol to the PCs, and task them to travel to the village of Gravencross, to guard the “stones that feel from the sky”; en route, the PCs will be attacked by strange wolves that seem to be suffering from a magical disease, and, well, as the PCs arrive, they’ll see a farmer burning crops, trying to stop the blight. Which obviously comes from the stones, right? Well, no. After the PCs have acclimated themselves to Gravencross and researched the details about the environment, the module goes into full sandbox mode and lets the characters explore the vicinity, with several biomes and random encounter tables presented. Arriving at the first stone will prompt visions for the holder of the divine symbol, and over the course of the module, the party will be able to piece together more and more.
This presentation of information is handled in a smart manner as well; everything happens pretty organically, and isn’t subject to requiring huge exposition dumps. Anyhow, beyond the dangerous wildlife and the mysterious wychblight, the PCs will see a strange, humanoid pteroglyph, and essentially do a wilderness investigation, as they try to find all three demon stones – these stones are not responsible for the magical blight; instead, they are part of the cure.
In a clever twist, the stones are a defensive meachnism of the god Basaltor, for the glittering geode, an important artifact of the deity, is in the process of being found/breached by a very nasty criminal, who dubs himself “The Underlord”; the bitter necromancer has a whole mercenary company under his sway, and the PCs will probably have crossed blades with them by now. The stones, in fact basalt elementals, are basically a safety precaution! The resting place of the geode? Right in the middle of the fallen stones! Atop a high ridge, the Wardcroft ruins hold the dungeon that contains the means to access the geode – thus, the final act is all about the PCs exploring this plausible dungeon, and trying to stop the dark necromancer…and the devil he has just summoned! This dungeon is well-executed, and sports diverse and fair challenges.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level; if you don’t know any better, you won’t realize that this is a conversion. Layout adheres to an elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the module sports A LOT of neat original b/w-artworks. The pdf version is layered, allowing you to customize it, and the module comes with a second, more printer-friendly iteration. The cartography is exemplary: Not only is there a lot of it, the player-friendly versions are super appreciated. Unlike the PFRPG-iteration, the OSR-version does have its full complement of bookmarks! This version also has another bonus: An easy-read iteration of the pdf. Cool! The pdf is PWYW! I am not even kidding!
Glynn Seal’s The Demon Stones” is a great adventure if you liked the gritty feel of old-school Greyhawk, if you gravitate more to the down-to-earth aesthetics of Raging Swan Press. While the module has high-fantasy-ish themes, it clothes them in a layer of plausibility, mystery and superstition that makes them feel appropriate for the overall atmosphere. The module manages to pull off not feeling like a conversion, and as a whole, is a resounding success.
The module achieves a high level of immersion throughout, with plenty of details and love evident. Now, I bought this module when its pdf was not yet PWYW, and I was thoroughly happy with it. If you’re just doing pdfs, I’d suggest something in the range of $5 – $6.99 for it. My final verdict for this adventure will be 5 stars – with my seal of approval added for the fair gesture of making the module PWYW. This is 100% owning.
You can get this adventure (INCLUDING PRINT) for PWYW here on OBS!
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