Twilight of the Solstice (DCC)
This adventure clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content – +1 page bonus pregens. In contrast to earlier Holiday modules for DCC, this is btw. laid out in standard size, not in the 6’’ by 9’’ trade size of previous holiday adventures.
This review was requested by one of my patreon supporters to be undertaken at my convenience. I consciously decided to post this review before New Year’s, as its Christmas/Yule-themes are rather subdued, but I got injured pretty badly – hence the delay. This adventure is intended for 4th level characters, and works in every season equally well, at least in my book. The respective areas feature well-written read-aloud text.
It also probably works best as a one-shot, as it has something we need to discuss. While it *does* come with notes on how to use it with existing characters, one of its gimmicks results, system-immanently, with a disjoint of sorts when used in conjunction with established PCs.
“Twilight of the Solstice” has a pretty central gimmick, namely the use of scratch-off character sheets. Before you groan, let me explain: You don’t need them. The pdf-version comes with a blank sheet, and a one-page bonus-pdf that contains the stats for 10 different PCs, allowing you to simulate the use of scratch-off character sheets. Kudos for going the extra mile here.
The way in which this gimmick is integrated into the plot is rather ingenious, but in order to discuss the connections betwixt in- and out-game woven here, I must delve into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only judges around? Great! So, in the frigid north, in times ancient and primeval, the jotnar were sealed away – a horrid race of rime giants that gets its own d30 table to customize personality traits and the like. These beings, once slain by fire, become a primeval yeast monstrosity, which is an interesting component and tweak on the classic trope. As giants, they are pretty brutal – with Act 1d24 and 8d10 HD for their standard huntsmen, they are pretty brutal. Minor complaint: The editing isn’t as tight here as usual for Goodman Games, with e.g. their three-eyed winter wolf pets on page 7 not having their name bolded, and with the sample giants not having precise hit point values. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
To seal the dread rime-giants away, the world-clock was fashioned – and it’s supposed to keep them at bay until the end of time – a place that PCs that fail the adventure may well get to see. The very subdued Christmas angle is represented by “The Grandmother” – a matronly, female version of Santa Claus, if you will – and a potent magic-user/guardian that prolonged her life by studying the clock. Yet, each annual sojourn from the clock brought her closer to her own demise, until she, in her desperation and desire to not leave her wards alone, made a pact with the giants. Yeah, dumb. Yeah, I didn’t get it either. She reopened the portal to the Jotnar’s prison, and now creation’s going belly up. Faster than you can say “Curse your sudden, but inevitable betrayal” they turned upon the Grandmother, and so she uses the last of her magics to send for the PCs, reach out for them in cryptic visions.
Meanwhile, the jotnar have sped up the progress of the world-clock, and the ripples through creation have wiped the PC’s memories – this is the justification for the scratch-off sheets and doubles as a hard time-limit regarding the completion of the module. There are only 12 “steps” of the solstices, as the world-clock hurtles the world through aeons. Magnificent civilizations rise and falls, and the PCs will watch even mountains perish. On a rest, the Grandmother gets a chance to visit the PCs, but the clock advances; similarly, every hour real time advances the clock. There is no dawdling here, and considering the difficulty of the antagonists here, this is not an easy adventure to pass.
The Grandmother is btw. yet another angle of quasi-Norse themes, should the moniker of “Jotnar” have not been ample clue for you: There will be, later, a fire-giant named Surtr that may help the PCs, and indeed, the Grandmother’s reverse aging process over the course of the module makes her pretty much a one-woman iteration of the classic Norn-theme. You know, Skuld, Verðandi and Urðr. This also is mirrored in some subtle tweaks, like the boss’s pet wolf having 8 legs, mirroring Sleipnir, with the aloliance of giants and wolves carrying resonances with Fenrir etc. This emphasis also extends to the dwarves within, the dvergar, who hearken more to the depictions of entities like Alfrikr, more commonly known as Alberich – mighty craftsman with a vicious streak and no particular fondness for the gods, these fellows are pretty nasty as well…PCs should be careful, particularly since they have pretty much no access to their character abilities and stuff.
Every advancement of the world clock through the aeons unlocks a new aspect of their characters, which is also why I think that this works best as a one-shot. DCC’s rules are simple enough that plenty of players know their PC capabilities by heart and sans looking at the sheet – just taking this information away doesn’t mean that they can’t recall it, creating a disjunction between in- and out-game playing experience that I personally consider to be grating. This is a system-immanent issue here, but I still strongly suggest running this as a one-shot or as a breather from ongoing campaigns. (Perhaps the PCs witness the phenomenon, and you cut to this module and a whole new group…) The gimmick is really strong and well-implemented here, and it surprisingly retains its functionality in the pdf, courtesy of the pregens provided, but it loses its novelty and impact in conjunction with PCs that the players know.
Now, here is a pretty big plus: Beyond the gorgeous (as pretty much always for Goodman Games) maps, the pdf provides 2 specifically designated handouts that help with puzzles within, as well as a one-page artwork that pretty much represents an unofficial, third handout. Puzzle? Yep, but here’s the thing – knowledge of the fuþark doesn’t really help – while there *are* runic puzzles to solve here, they are based on novel runes, including meaning. Basically, the module presents two different primary paths that both lead to the finale, and both offer for pretty different playing experiences. This means that a) the judge has replay value here, and b), the play-style of your group will be accounted for. If you prefer straight dungeon-crawling, you can follow the Jotnar’s tunnels and enter the world-clock through the back door…or you can brave the rather creative and fun puzzles that prevented access for mortals for ages past. Personally, no surprise there, I preferred the puzzle-path, but if you’re in the mood for some good ole’ murder-hoboing, you can get the like herein – just note that your opposition is nothing to sneeze at in either of the paths. Even in the more action-focused path, PCs will need their wits to survive in that path as well. Personally, I do think that some of the traps could use clear telegraphing to avoid them via clever playing, but considering that we’re talking 4th level PCs, and the fact that the traps are not particularly deadly, I can live with that.
Either way, the PCs will have to save the Grandmother and stop the Rime-giant jarl and his carls to halt the aeons and prevent getting a front-line seat to an untimely heat-death of the universe. As an aside: If you’ve been looking for a way to transition your game from DCC to MCC, the time-jump angle, which, alas, is pretty underutilized apart from the scratch-off sheet gimmick, may be a pretty neat way to do so. Instead of dumping the PCs back in their own time, dump them someWHEN else… this also represents my main gripe with this module: While the cold terrain and the scratch-off sheet are well-integrated, the origin of the distortion, the time-angle, is not. The complex doesn’t change, the PCs can’t speed up – the fleeting passage of time, the whole angle, just screams for mechanically-relevant tricks for PCs and foes alike.
Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level, but on a formal level, I noticed quite a few minor hiccups. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, and the b/w-artworks and handouts provided are absolutely gorgeous, as we’ve come to expect from Goodman Games. The same holds true for the fantastic cartography, but alas, we do not get player-friendly unlabeled versions of these fantastic maps. This represents a comfort detriment and is a bit of a bummer for VTT-fans. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks for each general area, but not for individual rooms, which makes navigation slightly less comfortable than it should be.
This is the first adventure by Marc Brunner that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, and indeed, it is an impressive one. I expected the module to fall apart when bereft of its gimmick – I do not own the scratch-off character sheets, so yeah. Instead, the module actually does an admirable job at integrating a distinctly metagame aspect and codify it in an in-game context, in a way that seems feasible. So yeah, big kudos for that!
I also found myself really loving the twist on Norse concepts, the different paths to victory, and enjoying the puzzles. And yet, in spite of me loving pretty much anything even vaguely Norse in theme, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling like this somewhat overstretched itself. The Grandmother is basically window-dressing, and represents the one jarring narrative aspect within. Similarly, the tempus fugit-angle could have been developed better, made more central. In a way, the module feels like it tries to do perhaps one or two things too many at once. With the complex slightly shortened in favor of pronouncing these aspects, this could have become my all-time favorite of the holiday/end of year DCC-modules. As written, I consider it to be the second-best of those I’ve covered so far, with only the masterful Trials of the Toymakers besting it. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up.
You can get this unique adventure here on OBS!