The Wizardarium of Calabraxis (DCC)
This adventure clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial/how to use, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, though it should be noted that these pages are jam-packed with content – there is a ton of material herein, about as much as in many DCC-adventures released by Goodman Games. It should also be noted that, in the editorial/how to use section, we also get the background story of the adventure, which means we’re closer to 14 pages of content.
Credit where credit is due: I’d like to thank Daniel J. Bishop – it’s due to his tireless efforts at cataloguing DCC-material that I have found this adventure. It otherwise would have flown under my radar. I’d also like to thank one of my patreon-supporters, who formally asked me to tackle this and finally get around to reviewing this.
I usually don’t comment on the price-point of products unless they are way out of line, but here goes:
This costs a grand total of $1.50.
Bear that in mind as we proceed.
Okay, on a formal level, it should be noted that creature statblocks herein are not formatted in the standardized way, instead being either italicized as a whole, or printed bold. I am, unsurprisingly, not that into this choice. However, I am VERY MUCH into something this module gets right, that almost no DCC-adventure gets right: We actually *do* get a player-friendly version of the map of the complex featured within, helping judges like yours truly that suck at drawing maps…and allowing for pretty painless VTT-use. This btw. also extends to the wandering monster-artworks, drawn in a charming, comic-like artstyle that captures the gonzo tone very well. Kudos there! The respective keyed encounter areas lack a read-aloud text, but we do get half a page of Appendix N inspirational reading, as well as a helpful timeline of the complex to be explored, i.e. the eponymous Wizardarium. Why is this important to note? I’ll get back to that below, in the spoilers-section. Information, just to note this, has been provided in an exceedingly efficient manner, so paraphrasing the content of the rooms is pretty simple. In style, the closest analogue is probably the very condensed and concise aesthetics of one-page-dungeons, at least for the description of rooms…just that it’s more detailed. On the plus-side for less experienced judges, there actually are some roleplaying suggestions – both in the playtesting examples given, and in the text – like running a finger over the lips as part of talking to create a film-reel-like effect, etc.
Remarkable regarding the timeline: Collapses and complex decay is noted, which can be rather helpful indeed. The complex sports a variety of unique monsters, as befitting a DCC-adventure, and there is a 1d12 table of one such creature type, with individual stats (!!) for each of them. The module also contains a rumor table, as well as painless guidelines for making psionic powers. These work via a roll under mechanic (making them, at least to me, feel archaic in the context of DCC, more like an odd OSR-component…but that is indubitably by design!), with the option to burn Intelligence or Personality. This baseline is made understandable by the pdf providing sample powers for a sample power, including 10 different effects. In essence, it’s a bit different from spells, but works differently enough to feel distinct. The sample power provides a context for the judge, and ultimately, spell design and the adjacency of the systems allow for simple expansion. While I’d have loved to see more sample powers, this does offer all you need to make more.
As for level-range, this works pretty well for DCC characters ranging from levels 0 -2, though it *is* a pretty deadly adventure and does a good job at higher levels with some tweaks as well. It also wholeheartedly embraces the gonzo and ridiculous traditions that can be found among the Appendix N literature and the D&D-based roleplaying games tradition, making it a module that can definitely be considered to be…genuinely funny. It can also be pretty horrifying at the same time, which is a tone you rarely see. It should also be noted that this does sport old-school aesthetics in that it rewards PCs and players for experimenting, but can result in some odd (and dangerous) consequences if they do. The module is deadly, but its lethality is grounded in a fair design paradigm – there is a last-second save and the like for the more deadly effects…but I’ll get to that below in the spoiler-section. Finally, it should be noted that this dungeon isn’t necessarily meant as a fire-and-forget offering – instead, it has a couple of components that reward players and PCs for engaging with it time and again, and seems almost designed to provide serious replay value.
…but in order to talk more about this adventure, I will have to dive into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only judges around? Great! So, there is some village, near some mountains, and apemen have kidnapped two kids. That’s about all you need for hooks. The apemen that inhabit the caves have lived for quite some time now in the abode of the vanished wizard Calabraxis, but they will probably end up being the least of the PC’s problems. Beyond these, the complex houses a variety of unique creatures: We have mongrelocks, basically the unique, devolved morlock/mongrelfolk-like beings – for these, we have the table of individual, unique stats mentioned before. Then, there’s the undermutants – powerful, deadly, and obviously degenerates of some other race – which would be the vorbians. The vorbians have a significant influence on the module and complex – an ancient mining device of these beings, a monolith, caused the creation and (d)evolution of species here. This monolith may make PCs smarter at the cost of stripping away the capacity to feel certain emotions – and yes, this is explained and makes for a great roleplaying device. Beyond that, the PCs may actually meet reawakened vorbians – with elongated skulls, advanced weaponry (that may turn unwitting PCs into vorbians…) and evil-twirling-moustaches ready. While not immediately hostile, their arrogance will probably make the PCs want to kill them. Oh, and what do they want? You decide…by playing vorb-libs! A mad-libs-like series of sentences you can fill out! Cool!
Oh, and there would be my favorite regular creatures in a while – head-swapper bats. These bats specialize in hit and run attack – if you don’t have a gorget or similar throat protection, they’ll bite you, and if you don’t quickly detach them, they’ll sever your head! (See, deadly, but you get a chance to get rid of them!) Then, they basically “put on” your head, and talk with your personality and knowledge, but in an amoral manner, and sans acknowledging the creepiness of the whole process! They are genuinely frightening, and they are an amazing roleplaying prospect, for these bats do like to converse…after all, that’s the only way to know which heads are smart enough to be good targets!
That are basically the rank-and-file monsters here! There are unique ones as well – like the very polite and very lethal guardian that is bound to one room – who *really* doesn’t want to kill the PCs, but, you know, relocating the guardian just might work…In the corridors, echoes of Calabraxis roam – harmless…for now. What do I mean by that? Well, the mad and grotesque wizard has managed to create a time-machine that the PCs can find and fiddle with! If they do, they can witness past and future, and the pdf actually provides concise guidelines for what this projection should allow, but thankfully without attempting to jam one interpretation of time travel down the judge’s throat. For folks like yours truly that prefer time travel to behave on levels akin to “Primer”, this makes the aspect actually work! Oh, and time travel is tied to not one, but two unique monsters that are fully statted, that are not part of the illustrious cadre I mentioned above.
Oh, and this level of imagination and attention to detail? It also extends to the small details, to terrain features and treasure to be found. You know you have something special on your hand when you find a book with a stick, and realize that it’s not only intelligent (if slightly senile), but also likes to eat spellbooks and scrolls…and it can be wielded like a razor-sharp axe! This is the type of far-out, unique, cool item I love.
Editing is excellent on a formal and rules-language level. Formatting is slightly less impressive, but seriously still better than the majority of supplements out there, on a good to very good level. Layout adheres to an efficient 2-column b/w-standard that manages to jam a metric ton of content on each page. The artwork is hand-drawn comic-book like and suits the module to a T. It also is wholly original, and the handout-version is great. The module comes with great, isometric maps, including a player-friendly version. The maps have no grid, which may be a downside for some groups. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
All of this…was done by one person. Art. Maps. Writing. All done by Claytonian.
Sir, if you read this, you have my utmost respect. This humble module is an exercise in extremely efficient adventure-presentation, and it contains more amazing things per page than most modules manage to cram in 30+ pages. It is readily evident that it has been playtested – it runs even better than it reads and is a module where adding the chaos-element of players, is great. Usually, I like my module stuffed with flowery prose; not an inefficient, irrelevant amount, but I do enjoy good, atmospheric descriptions, and their lack here should irk me when, here, it actually really doesn’t. Because this is hilarious masterclass gonzo, because it is extremely conductive to the shenanigans that players will inevitably generate.
Beyond the thoroughly enjoyable aspect of being useful as a dungeon, its plentiful and deep interaction opportunities, that players may or may not find, are conductive to revisiting this dungeon time and again. The Wizardarium is a complex that keeps on giving, that could honestly be a key site that could change a whole campaign, act as a nexus of sorts, etc. – all courtesy of some of its unique properties.
Let me remind you: This costs a grand total of $1.50. What can you even buy for that nowadays???
Even if you don’t run DCC, this is worth the asking price for the scavenging of concepts. If you do run DCC, then this is probably the best bang-to-buck-ratio you can find anywhere. Even at a regular price-point, this’d totally be worth it. At $1.50? W-T-F. This is puzzling, and obviously a gift to the DCC-community at large. An amazing module…so can we please get more? My final verdict clocks in at 5 stars + seal of approval, and this gets my EZG Essentials tag, as it genuinely belongs in every judge’s library. The concepts herein, even if you do not plan on ever using this as a module, makes this worth getting. Do yourself a favor and get this ASAP.
You can get this masterpiece here on OBS!