Wormskin #3: Ye Ruined Abbey of St. Clewd Pt. I (OSR)
The third installment of the Wormskin-‘zine clocks in at 56 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 50 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!
Full Disclaimer: I converted the latest Dolmenwood module, “Winter’s Daughter” to 5e.
I have no stake in the Wormskin-zine, and have had it for a year, slowly portioning my reading of the zines to when I got frustrated or bored. And yes, I bought them all long before getting the chance to work on “Winter’s Daughter”. I have not contributed to this issue in any way, shape or form. Why are you seeing these reviews now? Because I frankly needed to review some stuff that I really, really loved, that lifts my spirits.
As always, the OSR-rules employed within are intended for Labyrinth Lord or B/X and may be easily converted to other old-school rules-systems.
Okay, so, this installment of Wormskin represents a shift in focus – this time around, we embrace distinctly Dolmenwoodian tones, beginning the supplement with a brief recap of the history of Dolmenwood, penned by Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk. And don’t fret. It’s not hundreds of pages of bland dates – it sports a couple of entries, tells us about the erection of the warding versus the entities of Fairy, the mysterious Drune sect of self-styled elite protectors/masters, the arrival of the church of the One True God and how it pretty much failed to civilize Dolmenwood, but slowly managed to have the Drune ostracized…it’s just 4 pages, and in this brief section, it’s more inspired than many such timelines I’ve seen before.
Better yet, the following article, which details the languages of Dolmenwood, is awesome: Only the most potent members of fairy aristocracy will know the Immortal Tongue of Fairy; mortals attempting to speak Sylvan will sound like fools; Liturgic, as a Latin stand-in, is the language of sermons of the One True God, and from the goatman’s caprice and high caprice, to woldish and high woldish or the drunic language, these briefly touched upon languages add some intriguing details to the setting.
A cursory glance at the FREE Referee’s Map of Dolmenwood will make you realize that there is this weird circle held by rune stones – this is the Witching Ring, and it is unique and several ways…but honestly, this is getting into territory I feel I need to mark, so here goes:
From here on out, there will be PLENTY OF SPOILERS. Potential players of Dolmenwood should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! So this massive witching ring of runic stones? It’s boundary can’t be crossed by fey; teleportation doesn’t work, and charms and illusions have a 33% chance of failure. Interaction with runic stones, detailed notes on the inscription (which speak of the King of Brakenwold, Elder Phanatarch and St. Clewd slamming the doors on Frigia shut) and more can be found. You see, Wild Hunt-ish fey of what one would associate with the Winter Court have been driven from Dolmenwood…and should the wards ever collapse, Winter eternal shall reign. Oh, and yes, the book discusses, in detail, how this may be done, how the stones etc. can be sabotaged. Because, you know, if the villains don’t do it, PCs are liable to start tinkering with forces beyond their ken…
The book also continues depicting the hexes of Dolmenwood, covering a total of 7 different hexes (these are once more penned by the Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk): All of these are winners, to say that up front: The first ties in with one of the 4 new monster, the scrabey (plural: scrabies) – these demi-fey (fairies that have left the immortal lands, becoming natives of Dolmenwood) are grubby, scrawny elf-like beings 4 ft. high that can assume worm form in a pitch. As shrewd merchants, they come with a d12 table of stuff for sale, and 6 traits allow for customization, making them feel unique rather than just a generic creature. As in installment #2, we get 4 ready to go encounter ideas and also 4 detailed lair-ideas for them. Beyond this hex, we also learn of the phantom isle that houses a black elk goddess, the summerstone and the strange tower that is inhabited by 3 badger mages. Yes, badger mages. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume that Mike Welham wrote this… XD A local column allows for strange gifts, but unwittingly may subscribe the PC’s souls to a forgotten godlet…
Another hex deals with yet another unique critter, the mogglewomp. Mogglewomps are awesome. They truly feel like a medieval fey that have been purged from the pages of legend at one point: Mogglewomps are a bit like predatory fairy hermit-crabs in theme, not in looks: Without a home, a mogglewomp is a droopy humanoid, neckbearded and pretty harmless, wandering with but one goal: To be invited into a home. Once invited, the mogglewomp will start growing to grotesque dimensions (lavishly illustrated in full color) until it fills pretty much the whole homestead, eating the host. This perversion of hospitality makes the critter resound, and traits to customize both forms, sample encounters and lairs are provided as well. This is a fantastic critter.
While we’re on the subject of critters, let’s comment on the two final ones, which are tied to, you guessed it, the eponymous ruined abbey of the nigh-mythical St. Clewd. As an adventure-locale, it is intended for low-to mid-level characters; if your players are smart, they may well live at low levels; when run as a combat-centric module, it will almost assuredly wipe out groups below 3rd level, and it can be made challenging for much higher level PCs, so GMs should beware. The abbey’s ruins are depicted in a gorgeous b/w-top-down isometric map. Minor complaint: The map lacks a scale, which makes judging dimensions somewhat hard, and there is no unlabeled, key-less version of the map provided. The abbey has been penned by Gavin Norman and Yves Geens. In this installment of Wormskin, we learn about the ruins of the abbey that are left above ground. Beyond the random monster encounter section (8 entries), which is more detailed than you’d expect, taking up about ¾ of a page, the ruins feature a so-called scryke (also penned by Yves Geens) as a new critter: Stunted, jet-black humanoids, manifestations of chaotic energy…that, surprisingly, tend to keep their word, if only the letter of it. These beings can assume a destructive fog form, and they are not per se hostile: Drawn to relics and religious icons, they are repelled by the divine, requiring often the assistance of mortals. As before, traits, sample encounters and lair notes complement this creature beyond the confines of the module-section.
Now, not necessarily a part of the monster section, but an important factor of the highly customizable difficulty of the ruins of the abbey, would be the massive ghost monk generator: 8 names, ranks, appearances, characters and positions are provided. We also get 8 attack forms, 8 wishes and 8 secrets, making this an efficient encounter/side-quest generator that can easily be used to expand the module, to make it more deadly, or to weave small stories into the exploration of the dilapidated ruins. Ghost crows that partially exist in the ethereal nest here as well, and the ruined chapel shows a great example of direct indirect storytelling, if you well, with beautiful mosaics telling the legends of St. Clewd, foreshadowing the things to come in part II of the adventure.
Okay, you got me. I saved the best for last. You noticed that I have to yet cover the final new monster, right? That would be the Gloam. The gloam is one of the coolest undead I have read in quite a while: What may look like a flock of ragged birds in one form can become a gaunt man made of feathers, bone and beaks, a strange avaricious, but not inherently evil living dead that comes with a sense of palpable unease. It carries deadly diseases, and the detailed customization options we expect by now are included, as is an amazing one-page b/w-artwork of the entity in undead swarm form. What sets this apart? They can charm kids, the innocent. In the ruins, three kids have fallen under the spell of the mighty “Mister Rag-n-Bone”, one of them equipped with a motherlocket, an amulet that would allow for communication with her mom, were it not for the creature’s charm…but then again, it is looking after the kids…right? Right??? The gloam is awesome, and my favorite part of the upper ruins.
Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standards with golden highlights and a combination of gorgeous full-color and b/w-artworks. The cartography is great, though the lack of a scale and player-friendly version represent downsides. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Gavin Norman, with help by Greg Gorgonmilk and Yves Geens in a couple of articles, maintains a streak of pure imaginative vision, of excellence. Wormskin #3 is an incredibly dense, evocative glimpse into the tantalizing world of Dolmenwood, which seems to be utterly bereft of filler, of the boring. The magazine tiptoes the line between the surreal, the horrific, the absurd, and manages to be darkly funny and tragic at the same time in a most profound and awesome way, further crystallizing an aesthetic that sets Dolmenwood apart. I love it. The absence of a player-friendly map for the ruins above represents a drawback, though, which is why this loses half a star, for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, though I’ll still round up and gladly award this my seal of approval.
You can get this inspired ‘zine here on OBS!
“Winter’s Daughter,” in case you enjoy the setting as much as I do and want an introductory adventure, currently has a preorder going for a limited edition print-run! You can check it out here in its original B/X-version, and my 5e-conversion!