Death Frost Doom by Rulebook Heavily
Part 1Original SA post Death Frost Doom , part 1
Up on a mountain sits a house by a cemetery, haunted by the memories of atrocities past. People remember that horrible things happened up on that mountain, but not exactly what those things were. Still, they stay well away, and live long and prosperous lives for their wisdom.
But rumors of abandoned treasure and magic always bring those wishing to recover it. Brave, skilled men need not fear that which terrifies the common folk.
The cult on the mountain is long gone, yet the music of weirdling death carries on the wind.
The mountain is cold. So very cold.
And the greedy and the foolish will march bravely up the mountain for gold and glory.
Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Their Souls?
Death Frost Doom is an adventure for character levels 1 – 6, and includes a revised version of The Tower, originally published in Fight On! #4.
Death Frost Doom is like a microcosm of this man's thought processes, game design philosophy and frustrations with people who are Playing Elfgames Wrong. Published in 2009, It's what he considers to be a great adventure worth inflicting on other people for hours of play. It's Raggi's conception of Weird Fiction in the vein of Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers, author of the King in Yellow.
It's gotten some rave reviews.
Death, Frost, Doom may be the best published adventure I have seen in recent years. As much as I enjoy the better examples of old style modules, it is a pleasant surprise to see something so different coming from this corner of the hobby. Death, Frost, Doom is an intriguing mood piece as inspirational for the horror GM as it is for the D&D Dungeon Master. Reading, let alone playing, Death, Frost, Doom is instructive, showing one very useful way of developing a thriller or survival horror scenario. It also contains several bits and pieces that are worth stealing or using as inspiration.
I find it very hard to describe either the specific contents of the adventure or the feelings they engendered in me. I can only say that, simply on reading the text and looking at the illustrations, I was mildly unsettled, much as I might be after reading some of the better weird tales Death Frost Doom seeks to emulate. That's not the same thing as saying I was frightened, let alone shaken to my core, because I wasn't. Rather, I felt peculiar emotions that I can't quite name -- a kind of déjà vu, as if I'd read this adventure before even as I was certain I had not. I don't wish to be repetitive, but "dream-like" is the best way to describe my feelings and that's probably as good evidence as I can offer that Raggi has written something pretty amazing here, although I can easily imagine many not finding it nearly as unsettling as I did -- but then that's the nature of the weird tale in my experience.
But what is it like in actual play? Well...
The Tao of D&D posted:
They were bored out of their ever-loving minds, and so was I.
It isn't much fun as a DM to just describe and describe shit, with none of it being interactive. There was no chance for dialogue, no chance for a freaking mouse to attack the party, just nothing. Whatever creepiness and sense of doom that was at least hinted at on the surface died an ugly death in the subterranean. . . .
. . . but after the sheer boredom the party had been tolerating up to that point, an insurrection was staged.
And I mean the party literally rose from the table and refused to play any further.
Yeah. This is going to be special.
The Author's Notes
The adventure opens on the author spilling some thoughts onto the page, and it already looks promising. He talks about playtesting:
The first group suffered no casualties but ran like hell, the second group suffered no casualties but cut a deal most unwholesome in order to survive, and the third group lost four out of eight characters before running like hell. I do consider those results a successful playtest and true to the literature and cinema that inspired it.
One out of three groups completed the adventure, clearly a rousing success! He then talks about why his insane death traps are totally fair:
The key is to make sure the cruelty is fair, and in this case I have attempted to do so by making sure it is the players that must trigger catastrophic events (no ticking clock or “gotcha!” traps), and that there are multiple means of escape once those events are triggered. In addition, there is enough treasure to be found, and certainly continuing campaign consequences to be faced, that the whole affair is not simply a “Screw you, players!” exercise in sadism.
We'll see how that works out. He then talks about the worst thing a player can bring to the table in this adventure: Speaking with plants!
I suspect the main issues will remain challenging through sixth level, and there is one reason: At 7th level, spellcasters gain the ability to speak with plants. While it may be unlikely that players think to use this at its most opportune time, doing so effectively turns this adventure into a mapping expedition in an odd location rather than an adventure where participants will stare death in the eye. Even without that concern, when one gets to the higher levels, the ability to stand and fight becomes a viable, survivable option, and by the nature of the foes I would expect this to be terribly unexciting to play out.
Having the option to fight? Pff, not in a Man's Adventure you won't. (Did I mention that one of the classes in his retroclone game does nothing but fight? Yeah.)
After these amazing observations, he offers up thanks to all kinds of authors (Gygax, Arneson, Poe, Lovecraft et al) for inspiration, and...
Thanks to James Brian Murphy, by whose suggestion we have Death Frost Doom instead of Death Cold Frost.
Yes, really. The adventure was originally titled "Death Cold Frost", and in either incarnation the title is literally just words strung together as if generated by a Metal Band Name Generator found on a cached Geocities website. Were you expecting some kind of deeper meaning behind the title? Tough.
Next Time: Raggi Complains about People Playing Wrong (Again)
Part 2Original SA post
(El Vago's pretty cool)
Death Frost Doom part 2
"So somebody from something called Penny Arcade ran some Swords & Wizardry."
-Raggi, demonstrating his knowledge of the modern world
Before I begin the adventure proper, let me just say that the layout of this booklet is atrocious. Raggi very obviously wrote this document with the default Word settings, inserted some images, printed to PDF and then sold the results as if they were something to be proud of. The sample pages tell it better than I could, but right now I'm just glad that he at least understands paragraphs. (Spoilers in that link if you care.)
Now if there is one particular thing about this author you need to understand, it is this: James Edward Raggi IV is wordy as hell. His brief moments of brevity are like safety rings thrown into a sea of superfluous prose. Take the following:
This adventure module describes the abandoned shrine and burial location of an old death cult which is located on the side of a mountain.
This is brief, accurate, to the point. This is something Raggi does his very best to avoid from this point onwards. The next two hundred words are devoted to saying "this adventure needs to take place somewhere and the players need to hear about it". This takes up half the (8 point Times New Roman A4 printed to PDF directly from Word) page before he deigns to introduce the adventure with the following:
For those that desire at least a description of the journey up the mountain…:
Yes, for those few of us who actually want to know about the adventure...
What follows is just the first of many incredibly pointless digressions Raggi makes in order to justify writing this adventure to himself. I'll reproduce it here just to give you the full effect, with bolding for emphasis.
The mountain is steep and treacherous, with only one safe path going up. Referees should make life difficult for PCs who insist on going up the mountain without using the trail. There will be rockslides, predators, sheer surfaces, and certainly a far, far slower pace face those traveling off the trail. It is not “railroading” to make travel along the trail easier, else the very concept of “trail” is useless. The trail was originally established by the people that built their shrine on the mountain, so it actually goes directly to where the PCs are headed, and they chose this mountain for their shrine specifically for its inaccessibility by other means. They wanted to be left alone and they wanted to be able to easily monitor and control the means of approach. In any event, going up the mountain without using the trail should be difficult, but not impossible.
There is not much of interest on the mountain.
This is not an introduction to adventure, this is just Raggi being petulant at you about how players are mean to him and how he's totally in the right to be a dick at them about the most meaningless things. A mountain that doesn't have much of interest does not deserve one hundred and fifty words on why Raggi is right about railroading you up it in one particular way, and yet here we are. And no, none of that background information is made clear to the party.
This is followed by:
About a day’s journey up the trail from the base of the mountain is the home of Zeke Duncaster. About eight hours further up the trail is the old cabin which housed the ancient, evil cult.
See? He can be brief. He just deliberately chooses to fill the page with completely irrelevant stuff about his opinions instead. From this point on, whenever I post something very brief you can assume that it's surrounded on all sides with badly constructed verbiage from which sanity must be hacked as if I were a jungle explorer wielding a chainsaw with giant machete teeth.
In any case, we finally get introduced to Zeke Duncaster, who will introduce the players to the adventure. Zeke is the only NPC the players will interact with for the foreseeable future, and he's a charmer.
The very model of a modern major general
He's a crazed hermit who wears animal skins, is hard of hearing, is a "skilled huntsman but an incompetent tanner" - meaning he smells horrible - and who spends most of his time badly carving headstones from wood, needing multiple tries for each one. His speech "betrays his nonexistent education". These are facts you should keep in mind. The DM is also encouraged to comically misinterpret what people are saying and drag every bit of conversation out, which Raggi presumably things will add to the layer of horror he's attempting to convey with this adventure.
His hut is no less charming.
His cabin, off to the side of the trail, is little more than a series of stakes with thick layers of animal hides strung between them. Hanging from branches all around the cabin, and from lines made from animal gut, are more skins as well as meat. Antlers and poorly stuffed dead critters like chipmunks and squirrels are mounted on tree branches. Blood, both dried and fresh, permeate the entire location. Waste is piled downwind from the cabin. The impression onlookers should get from this is something between a bum’s alley digs, a hunter’s lodge, and a slaughterhouse.
I don't think Raggi understands that wind direction can change. This is hardly the only thing he'll fail to get right here, though.
A good number of the skins have names inked in blood written upon them. One particular skin with the name “Marybelle Walker” on it is hung over what appears to be a large wooden plaque-in-progress, with the letters M-A-R-Y-B-E-L-L already etched into it with self-made stone tools which are laying beside it. In a heap several yards away are several failed attempts at this plaque – Zeke is no better a woodworker than he is a taxidermist, even after all this time.
Let's spot what's wrong here, shall we? First of all, Raggi confuses taxidermy with tanning. Second, a man with a "nonexistent education" is spelling words, meaning he can write and presumably read. Well done Raggi, you've failed to grasp the very concept of education and knowledge . Now, on to the actual meeti- oh wait no, we need to roll some dice first.
There will only be a 50% chance that Duncaster is home when the PCs arrive (he keeps no regular schedule so this will be true no matter what time of day they come through). If he is there, there is a 25% chance he is sleeping, a 25% chance he is eating (either raw roots, berries, or smoked meat), a 25% chance he is mending or preparing hides, and a 25% chance he is working on the wooden block. If he is not home, he will be returning in d4 turns (he never wanders far), with a 50% chance he’s returning with a fresh kill or a supply of berries, and a 50% chance he’s returning with firewood (he never chops down his closest trees).
In order for the party to have their first conversation with this man, you need to roll a d% dice, then depending on the result either roll another d% or roll a d4 and then a d%. Then maybe you wait for up to forty minutes game time.
Welcome to the other big facet of Raggi's writing; incredibly pointless mechanical bullshit. There is literally no reason for this mechanic to exist because the adventure itself assumes that the party is only going to be speaking with Zeke this once, perhaps at most twice. Cue almost three hundred words on the various ways Zeke will greet the party depending on how they approach the uneducated literate man who taxidermies skins to write on, all of it pointless reiterations of "he's friendly unless you attack him".
Anyway, this turns into a DM monologue as Zeke offers the party some bark tea and "badger bits". He explains that a long time ago, an evil cult lived up the mountain but were driven off. They killed a bunch of people, and Zeke took it on himself to give them all a proper memorial, carving tombs and later just headstones with their names on them. In fact, he claims he used to do fancy cairns.
Let's just recap; He is described as being almost totally incompetent at stonework earlier. He's been doing this for decades. At what point exactly did he go from being able to do "fancy" work to being barely able to carve a block of wood with multiple attempts? And because this is "weird fantasy", these wood blocks turn to stone eventually for reasons that are never explained. Him knowing the names to carve isn't a plot hole, oddly enough. The cult helpfully wrote the names of their victims down for reasons unknown.
If questioned about anything relating to anything, Zeke doesn't know (a hundred plus words on how much he doesn't know anything about anything, hooray). And if the players climb up the mountain in his presence, he'll attempt to stop them short of trying to kill them, because NPCs can't be helpful except to be mouthpieces in Raggi's world.
If by some circumstance he watches the PCs depart (he’s tied up, for example, or proven to be physically incapable of restraining everyone after a few tries, or people are willing to drag him up the mountain with them), he will give the classic, “You’re doomed… you’re all doomed!” line.
Wow, isn't this writing just so evocative you guys? I can see why all those reviews were just glowing with praise. Oh, and naturally we need combat stats, right?
Duncaster is a crazy old loon, but he is a tough one. In all respects he should be treated as a first level fighter with maximum hit points, 16 strength, and 17 constitution.
A crazed incompetent old loon up a mountain has stats that are statistically well above the average player character, naturally. Note that Raggi doesn't give statistics for his own retroclone (not that they're all that different from one another), but rather says "first level fighter". This is purportedly to make it easier to run this adventure using any old school D&D ruleset or OSR hack, but in practice it means statting everything up for yourself treating Raggi's writing as a vague guideline. Fortunately for any soul hoping to run this, stat blocks aren't going to be much of a thing at all because obviously old school D&D isn't about fighting monsters.
No, it's about the carefully crafted atmosphere. That's why we had to go through this entire rigmarole to learn that there were some evil people in a place once.
Raggi then stops his description there, leaving half of page 4 empty and white because formatting things in Word is hard. Feeling spooked yet?
Next Time: There is not much of interest on the mountain!
Part 3Original SA post Death Frost Doom Cold Death Doom part 3
"Brains, people. And activity. Both physical and mental. They are more important than your tits."
"And stay away from this "woman logic" crap. Little tests to see if the guy REALLY cares. I'm an open damn book."
"Be a wildcat in bed. I know, I know, it's bad form to mention sex on a dating site (like none of you reading this actually like sex, right?), but if you suck in bed, then it really doesn't matter what you're personality is like or what you look like."
James Edward Raggi IV, Modern Day Romeo
The first thing we're greeted with in this section is a map. Ooh, production values!
I know, it's so detailed, but try to keep up
Raggi finally gets to the “slow creeping buildup towards doom” thing here, by the way, and makes sure to state that no life whatsoever thrives around the cabin, not even insects or a tiny bit of plant life. The entire place is well below where the treeline should end, and there's a strange susurrus in the air. It's also snowing well below the snowline.
Except... if there are no trees and it's snowing, wouldn't that just make this the treeline and snowline? Whatever.
Those crosses on the map are gravestones and other markers made by Zeke over forty or fifty years. I don't even want to calculate how productive he's been, but keep in mind that Raggi wants this to be a bit mind boggling. Also on the map are points of interest labelled A to E and the cabin. The players are expected to go to the cabin first, so naturally it gets detailed last. Cue... prose.
At night the air is crystal clear, but the moon itself seems to waver and the trees and statues take on an illusion of trembled movement.
Raggi also doesn't understand adjectives, or possibly tenses. He gives us around two paragraphs of this before lapsing into his usual self.
Even highly trained animals will absolutely refuse to enter this area, so characters will have to do without their mounts, familiars, or whatever else they’ve brought along. Leaving them unattended in the wilderness is a bad idea, but certainly in an area as spooky as this, hirelings will not stand guard alone. Zeke would be happy to look after animals, but he will slaughter horses and mules and such for food if the party does not return within two days. Remember that he figures everyone is going to die anyway.
Yep, that's more the style I'm used to from Raggi. Hey, here's a few questions; How are the players supposed to leave the animals with Zeke? The last time the party has seen him at this point, he tried to wrestle them into the ground to prevent them from advancing up the mountain. Would anyone leave their pack animals with a guy like that? Would the animals even want to stay in a place that looks and smells like a slaughterhouse (fuck no they wouldn't)? And why are these people even bringing horses up a mountain to begin with, particlarly one they don't intend to cross? There was no indication that this would be a long journey.
Pretty much everything written in this adventure goes completely unexamined like that. But anyway, there's a big graveyard. How can the players interact with it?
Camping within sight of the graveyard and cabin is a very foolish idea. The spirits of the slain are not at rest as their souls are imprisoned and subject to constant torture. They cry out in both agony and in hopes of rescue, but they can only be heard through dreams, and their message will not be understood as the dreamer will only experience a fraction of the torment that these souls endure. Those attempting to rest here will experience nightmares and have a 25% chance of not having the night count as rest at all and a separate 25% chance of having nightmares of such ferocity that they suffer a -1/-5% to all rolls until they get a proper night’s rest (this is cumulative if they continue to rest here and this effect comes up again). The chance for either effect drops by 5% for every hour’s travel distance they are from the graveyard. Spellcasters will not be able to regain spells if they suffer either effect. The character will be haunted by intense nightmares for days afterwards, but there will be no mechanical penalties assigned for this.
Uh... okay, that sure is a lot of dice rolling. Note that Raggi's playing a game with saving throws in it but doesn't allow you any. But what can the players do about this? Perhaps a spell?
So anxious are the dead to communicate that casting Speak With Dead will work no matter how long ago the victim was slain, but the full knowledge of what is happening to these souls will be gained, and mortal man can not withstand it. The caster will be able to ask no questions, they will take d4 damage, and have a 25% to gain a random insanity . There is a 50% chance that they will lose one point on Constitution and a separate 50% chance that they will gain one point of Wisdom . They will learn that casting Bless on a body will release its soul to whatever proper afterlife, if any, awaits it.
Ha ha, gotcha! You tried to actually use a spell to do what it was designed to do! You are now a nymphomaniac, take 2 damage and gain +1 Wisdom!
Yeah let's just cover these points of interest.
It's a deep shaft. The susurrus is emanating from this point, so the party should find it “after some time”. About ten feet down, it becomes covered in a strange spiky plant growth (which you must under no circumstances speak to I guess?). Depending on how much emphasis you place on nothing living thriving here, this should be a bit of a clue. It also leads to the next exploration area, so more on that later.
It's... a deep shaft. Raggi is putting something on display here, all right. Unlike the other one, this one is covered with a metal grate and “PCs shouldn't find this access point while going through the graveyard without extraordinary means or being so thorough that they spend weeks up on the mountain”. There's no indication as to how this thing is so well hidden, it just is because the PCs “aren't expecting it”. In fact, going by the text, the first shaft is better hidden because it's covered by snow. But remember, it's not railroading because Raggi said so!
A fairly recently dead corpse of an explorer. Named Grover Cincinnati. Raggi, just... just don't bother with names, okay? You're not good at them. Mr. Sesame Street Puppet of Ohio here died of exposure and is dressed only in a nightshirt and a coating of fresh snow.
An old oak tree once used to hang people. The remains of the knot are still tied to one of its petrified branches, and...
Over the centuries, having soaked up the energy of so much painful death, it is filled with the essence of suffering and woe. The tree is self-aware but is unable to move or communicate, and it desperately hates those that move. The only way to discover that something is not right with the tree is if it is damaged, at which point it will bleed human blood. But if it could animate
Except it never will animate because the only people who could do that are the ones that could also speak with plants, and you don't want them around giving people options to do things. So this bit of adventure background will never become relevant at all. Thank you, Raggi.
A well, which is also a type of shaft. Thank you for displaying your shafts to me, Raggi. Double chance of nightmares if you drink from it, and you suffer the effects of resting in the graveyard even if you're nowhere near it... but it doesn't say how long. Apparently it will just haunt you for the rest of your life then.
Well, that was pointless. What's next?
It's shabby and run-down with a saggy roof. Here things finally start getting genuinely weird, although not in the sense I suspect Raggi was aiming for. For one thing, this cabin is many thousands of years old and is entirely composed of petrified wood. Second, it's covered in minute calligraphy.
It is etched in the ancient, mystic language of Duvan’Ku. Comprehend Languages and Read Magic may both be used to read Duvan’Ku. The writing on the cabin holds no useful information, being rather a large collection of exaltations and proclamations such as, “All Hail the King of Death,” “To Rule Life and Death,” “Glory and Pain,” that sort of thing.
wow this is such evocative writing you guys
Naturally, the cabin has a front door. Equally naturally, Raggi tries to poorly imitate Gygaxian writing and makes this front door the focus of about two hundred rambling words of text on the door and how it demonstrates that players are idiots. It's got no hinges, so if the players attempt to open the door without examining it it'll just fall down with a loud bang, and...
The referee should then roll a couple of dice, act like he’s consulting a chart in this text, and either shake his head in disbelief or smirk like a criminal that’s just gotten away with a big heist, whichever would most unnerve the players. And frankly, if the players are not even examining the door before entering this place, the referee might want to check that they’re stocked up on blank character sheets – they’re going to need them.
Holy hell Raggi could you air your insecurities a little more? Could you give more hackneyed “advice” that wouldn't pass muster at a table of twelve year olds?
There's footprints leading from the back door to location C (Ohio) because Raggi doesn't know what happens to footprints when it snows, and the windows will repair themselves if removed or broken in 1d4 hours because dice rolling is the same thing as gameplay. And I wish I were joking, but I've seen at least one play report of this module where the players just decided to use the infinite window supply as a source of income. Naturally, the report was glowing with praise over this module.
Sleeping in the cabin involves a copy-paste of the mechanical wall of text involving nightmares, except it's twice as likely in the cabin because “the spirits of the sacrificers mingle with the spirits of the sacrificed here”. That's not an explanation, but whatever. Also there's harpshichord music in the air inside the cabin because there's music in horror movies that Raggi likes.
Next Time: The Cabin proper (plus drugs)
Part 4Original SA post Death Frost Doom McLargehuge part 4
[Retroclones] have the advantage of being able to say "This is the game that's been around forever." They all present the same thing in different ways. The spells, the monsters, the magic items, the implied setting. The rules vary bit by bit, but the trappings are the same. I think the clones are both necessary and awesome, but I certainly understand that another "pure" clone isn't necessary.
Creativity will help there.
But I will say it plainly.
-James Edward Raggi IV, Creative Visionary
It's funny that the thread decided to talk about time travel just now...
Last time we entered a cabin. This cabin is dumb in so many ways. Let's have a map.
Alright, no time like the present. What is (hypothetically) of interest in these marked spots?
This is the main room, and it takes up pretty much all of Raggi's unique descriptive flair for the entire cabin. It's “full of furniture and other mundane objects”, and you better believe there's a thorough and detailed list of every single chair, desk and decoration. I'll give Raggi this next bit for free; it does seem like something genuinely freaky. Whenever anyone enters this room, they find that all the chairs in it have turned to face them. This happens even with chairs that are brought into the room from elsewhere in the cabin.
On one of the desks sits a book “bound in the flesh of virgin elves”, not that I understand how the party is supposed to discover that, and it contains names. Lots of names. The title is “Offerings of Duvan'Ku”, which you might remember is also the name of the language used in the cabin's graffiti. It's four thousand years old (again, no way for the party to find this out), is in no condition to be moved and contains the names of everyone the local as-yet unnamed cult has sacrificed over the millennia.
There are over forty thousand names in the book. The names in the beginning of the book are strange and foreign (they use a lot of impossible-to-pronounce consonant combinations and apostrophes, for example Tch’Nkgatl), while the final pages written upon (there are several dozen unused pages in the back) have more familiar and modern names. The last several hundred names have a recently-placed red mark next to them (Zeke started at the back of the book because of the more culturally familiar names, and marks those names he copies down so there is no duplication in his work).
As we'll find out, most of the remains of these fourty thousand sacrifices don't exist anymore, but several thousand do.
There's a fireplace (good luck finding wood to burn), and
Above the fireplace is a partially decayed, partially frozen mounted deer head. It’s nothing special, but if for some reason the dead rise from their graves, the deer head will wave maniacally back and forth on the wall and laugh hysterically.
Oh. Well, of course there's an Evil Dead 2 reference in an adventure designed to emulate the works of weird fiction by luminaries such as Edgar Allan Poe. Sam Raimi clearly belongs with those kinds of authors, right?
damn it Raggi do you just not understand anything
There's a mirror in one of the corners that only reflects the images of non-evil people. It's impossible for the party to ever know this (detecting a theme yet?) but the cult used this to filter out spies. Naturally, the mirror loses its magic when moved because something something. There's also a trapdoor (T on the map) which is padlocked leading to the next adventure location much like the shafts outside, and it's specifically impossible to hold a light source while climbing down. There is also no key for the lock, so have fun with that. But more on that location and its horrific array of nothing later.
There is a clock. It's apparently important to the author, because it takes up something like four or five hundred words total which isn't even divided into paragraphs. Basically, it displays oddly random times every time the players reenter the cabin and can be used to travel through time. Yes, really.
You move the big hand and you move forward in time by that amount instantly, at least from your perspective, or you move the hands backwards and freeze time for that amount of time from your perspective (move it back a couple of hours, you get two hours to fuck with time-frozen people). No going backwards, though. The bulk of this thing's description is concerned with undead, spirits and other similar creatures using it which will never, ever happen in the adventure as written. And naturally, the players will not be able to remove the clock without destroying it.
What importance does this clock have to the adventure? None whatsoever. It's not even a plot device. It's just there to be there. There are a couple of ways I can see it being particularly useful later on, but... yeah.
The kitchen. It's a kitchen, with an open window to the main room like a modern cafeteria. Remember, this place is supposed to be 4000 years old and the game is essentially medieval. “Making Sense” is not on this author's list of priorities.
A bedroom containing Grover Cincinnati's belongings. There is nothing in his belongings containing his name, so the players will never even learn it. Also, apparently this explorer brought a nightshirt with him to sleep on a cold mountain.
This is where the harpshichord music in the house comes from on account of there being a harpshichord here. It only plays when no one is looking at it.
There's also a ridiculous painting on the wall.
On the west wall is a painting. It depicts the current group of people (so most likely the PCs and their followers!), wearing their current gear, in the cabin (not on the roof, just outside, or down in the dungeon), and those people are standing before an altar with a giant skeleton looming over it and an open door behind the altar to the right of the skeleton (location 22).
Raggi mentions twice that this is not an illusion, the painting just is this way. I don't see why that's so important but whatever. Then Raggi anticipates player actions.
The painting weighs about fifty pounds including the frame, and is six feet long and four feet high. Because of its age and its superior artistic depiction of the scene, if it can be kept in perfect condition, it can be sold for 2500 gold. It can be removed from the frame and rolled up of course, but remember even the slightest bump can cause a crease, and the slightest crease reduces its value. Anyone looking upon the painting for the first time, even if it’s in some city marketplace hundreds of miles away, will see in the painting whoever is in the cabin at the time of their first viewing. If nobody is in the cabin, then of course no one will be in the painting and it will just look like a still life painting of the altar.
Looting paintings: truly the essence of weird survival horror.
It's another bedroom. The item of most interest in here is the drugs.
On the nightstand is a candlestick and bag full of Purple Lotus Powder (enough for ten doses). Magic-users and dwarves will instantly identify the substance as one that can either turn a man into a godlike being or completely destroy him.
...Why would a dwarf know this. Like, specifically a dwarf. Why. What is it about being a dwarf that lets you intrinsically know facts about strange narcotic substances. Explain this to me Raggi
Anyway, people can snort this, roll on a random d% chart and see what happens. Magicians roll twice per dose for no reason I can discern. There's also some really bad and boring rules for addiction, but let's have some highlights from the chart instead! All of these effects last for a random number of “turns” which are old D&D speak for “a period of ten minutes” unless otherwise noted.
2 Lotus is Poison! Save or Die!
5 Communes with the gods! d4 questions!
16 Character Feigns Death! Nobody Knows!
29 Character Loses d4hp – Permanently!
30 Character Gains d4hp – Permanently!
35 Communes… but Answers Are Lies!
39 Thinks is a John Wayne character
55 +1 to random ability score – permanently!
56 -1 to random ability score – permanently!
68 Takes No Hit Point Damage Whatsoever
84 Believes Any Remaining Lotus is Ice Cream
89 Becomes Violently Nymphomaniacal
91 Is Hungry and Believes Self is Very Tasty!
97 Wants to Move Overseas to Marry
98 Roll Again, Effect is Permanent
Yes, there's a chance your character will permanently want to move overseas to marry someone with every dose they take of this drug. Or just become a permanent rapist, whichever. It always comes back to sexual violence with these bad RPG authors sooner or later.
Weird Horror Fiction, everybody! That's literally everything there is to do on the surface. For an adventure where you can snort drugs to become John Wayne and then travel through time, it's been remarkably dull.
Next Time: A maze of over twenty rooms, all alike
Part 5Original SA post Death Frost Doom part 5
One Important Ingredient for Weird Fantasy: Total Disregard
Disregard for the rules, disregard for the PCs, disregard for the "campaign plan."
-Raggi, telling us why we should care about his product
Ugh this part
There's a few reasons why this part has taken me so long to get to. The biggest one is simply that it's a slog just to read through it, let alone try to say something interesting about it. It's just corridors upon corridors spattered with empty rooms and more Raggi-isms.
Let's start with a map.
Lines and shapes drawn on graph paper squares are like 50% of the art budget
Doesn't that look fun? Well guess what, you're supposed to wander through this mess and map it by hand while checking for potential threats one corridor and room at a time. And let me just say it right now, not only is there not a single fight down here but most of the rooms also contain nothing of value or worth.
So what's it like down here? Well the everpresent noise (remember that?) is louder down here, and gets louder the closer you get to room 22 which incidentally has an exit leading to the one shaft in the graveyard the players can find. So if you're lucky, you'll just skip most of this place entirely and still fuck yourself over, but more on that in the next update. Sleeping down here is a monumentally bad idea because you take damage and there's a chance (25%) someone in the party will be possessed by a dead cultist. Then again, this does nothing whatsoever to the person so affected. Seriously, there's no listed consequence of this happening.
There's “absolutely no heat down here” but somehow things don't freeze and the players don't die from exposure, so we can add thermodynamics to the growing pile of things Raggi doesn't understand. So what does he understand?
There are no random encounters within the shrine, as it is quite a dead place. Careful and methodical adventurers will be able to find a great deal of treasure with absolutely no personal risk, but a number of adventurers may feel that this is not an exciting adventuring location.
Why yes, a ton of random treasure with no personal risk is unexciting adventure design, well done!
the succession of deserted (but not empty!) rooms is intended to heighten the atmosphere and build the tension – every player at the table will know that they aren’t likely to be playing an adventure with absolutely no enemies, and they are going to get more anxious and perhaps paranoid as they explore more without encountering opposition. If they are clever enough to never meet any opposition, they will likely be unsatisfied with the adventure as a whole without realizing how lucky they were.
So exploit the metagame knowledge of “the players will be expecting to use a game mechanic” to... make them not use it. And this is scary because spooky descriptions I guess? Also, if they're good they'll have a boring time.
I don't know how Raggi could have realised this, written it down and then decided that not only was this an awesome idea, but that everyone who bought this thing should gain direct insight into just how bad a designer he really is. He made his adventure deliberately boring and bad and made sure you knew. This is no longer just an adventure. This is a cry for help.
So, on to the rooms. I debated whether I should go over every single room, but this turned out to be stupid because there's a ton of them and most of the rooms are barely reworded retreads of “nothing” or “there's some dried blood on the floor”. I'll cover the interesting bits in detail and summarize the more boring shit, not that I haven't been doing plenty of that.
Now, the adventure assumes you got down here from the cabin. If you look at the map, the entry is in the upper left, so I might as well go with that order.
1. The Screaming Hall is... yeah, it's legit creepy. For once. It's covered with distorted faces who, upon contact with living skin, will start screaming in a dead language about fresh meat for sacrifice. Nice intro chamber. It's followed by 1a , a door, and 2 , a chamber with some tables in it. It's these latter two that really set the example for this dungeon.
3. Chapel is the first location to have anything of interest to your average casual D&D player, meaning treasure! On the walls are murals depicting references to D&D demon lords like Zuggtmoy and Demogorgon which Raggi doesn't name because trademarks (and so that abject D&D nerds can feel pleased about themselves for getting them right). From the ceiling hang thousands of skulls on... rattling motionless chains. (Raggi doesn't understand any physics okay)
Naturally, the treasure is found in the most holy.
On the altar is a bowl holding a jewel-encrusted dagger worth 1400 gold and a ruby necklace worth 1000 gold. These items are cursed. Whoever takes one of the items without the items first being Blessed (and each item must be individually Blessed) must forevermore make two to-hit rolls every time they attempt to strike in combat, with the worst of the two rolls being used.
Welcome to Raggi's brand of not screwing players over. Recall the first part of my review where he talked about his traps being fair because they required the player to interact with them? Yeah, have the equivalent of a permanent -3 or so to every attack roll ever, no save, for trying to actually do something in his boring adventure. But hey, if you're running with critical hits you just got twice as likely to get them!
Speaking of his random-ass crap, here's the funniest thing in this dungeon.
Just north of the altar is an organ made out of bones. The keys are human finger bones, and the pipes are made of giants’ thighbones. The organ has been clogged with dust and deadly yellow mold. Playing the organ will cause the spores to shoot out the pipes and all over the room (50% chance) or just over a 10’ area around the organ (50% chance), and everyone in the area of effect must save versus poison or die. Doing this will also dislodge an onyx bowl worth 1300 gold and a sapphire worth 250 gold from the inner workings of the organ.
So you play the thing which has tiny keys (seriously human finger bones are not big enough to be organ keys Raggi), it shoots poisonous instadeath spores all over the place and then just sort of poops out treasure? This is like the weirdest slot machine ever designed. Also, consider how it's entirely possible that the party gets this far into this supposedly horrific adventure and then dies to a trap so bad even most Batman villains would think twice about using it. Speaking of, there's a couple of basins filled with water and teeth which are also instadeath traps but yield a 100g gold locket.
Following this bit of hilarity, rooms 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 have one line descriptions. They're cultist and servant bedrooms, a kitchen, two separate toilets and a torture chamber. No treasure, no interest.Yay.
10. High Priest's Study Room is filled with useless books, but if you search for 1d6x10 minutes you might find a scroll of protection vs. lycanthropes! Yes, really, the search duration is randomized here. I don't know. 11 is the high priest's quarters, and in here is found a ring of vanishing.
This ring works as a normal ring of invisibility, with the following exceptions: It doesn’t work against undead, and if the wearer is adventuring in an area where undead are found on the wandering monsters chart, then all checks for wandering monsters result in an encounter with undead in addition to the normal chances for encountering another random creature.
This is kind of a dumb trap item. Either the party uses it without knowing what it does and assume it's just a ring of invisibility (and no old school player will do this), or the players identify it and know when it will be useless, thus making the trap fall flat.
If you're keeping count, you'll notice that I have found at least one problem with almost every single room, item and location of interest with more than a line or two of description for it in this adventure so far. That's impressive in its own way, I suppose.
12. Embalming Preparation Room is what it sounds like. There's a book here that lets people make flesh golems, which naturally also requires a strong electric charge because all fleshy creations must obviously be a direct reference to the Hollywood Frankenstein by old school gaming law. It's free to make, aside from the necessary bits, and the leftovers will animate into undead which the golem refuses to fight. And this last bit will “of course” not be made obvious to the players, because "of course" people wouldn't write that shit down.
So moving on, 13 is a door and 14 are the priesthood's crypts, with tons of rooms and corridors you're expected to explore and map individually. Oh, and they're infinite money generating crypts.
Every turn searching through the berths will reveal 3d6 worth of gold in various ancient coins left as offerings, with a 10% chance of a gold trinket worth d6x50 gold.
Those players who stuck to using the infinite cabin windows as a source of regular income were clearly missing out! No, there's no limit for how often or how long you can search. The text mentions spiral staircases on the map (because the maps have no keys) which lead down to identical crypts without exits in them. Moving on, 15 is a library where all the books are on special marble pedestals and have been eaten away by... the nonexistent rodent and insect life? Wasn't it kind of a Big Deal that nothing like that survived here earlier? Fucking hell. 16 are more crypts. The text is literally copy-pasted. And yes, they generate infinite money too. There's just one line added which states that occasionally the party finds swords, because this one is for warriors.
Isn't this just so exciting and creepy? No? Well fuck you then, have 17 which is yet another copy-paste crypt. Raggi actually copied and pasted the same text three times into this adventure. And the irony is that part of the text describes them as being – wait for it – identical .
18. Prayer Room introduces my absolute number one favorite bit of completely ass-backwards game mechanical stupidity Raggi has written into this waste of paper and electrons: the Hot Potato saving throw. Basically, there's text in this room. A particular piece of it will, when read aloud, cause the following to happen.
Write this down and hand the note to the player who reads the inscription. If he reads it out loud, word-for-word, to the others, then everyone within earshot must make a saving throw versus spells. Go around the table, starting at the reading player’s left. If that PC made their save, continue on until somebody fails a save. If everyone else makes their save, the character who read it aloud must save. The one who fails his save will immediately attempt to grab the ink and needles and tattoo the Dead Sign of Duvan’Ku somewhere upon his body. This will take three minutes if uninterrupted. The character will do all in his power to tattoo himself until the inkpot is destroyed, he actually completes the tattoo, or d6+4 turns pass.
Anyone with the Dead Sign tattooed on their bodies will no longer be able to receive magical healing… ever.
Note that there's no mention to stop saving. People are just expected to roll until someone fails. And this occurs many times during this adventure from this point on, with different consequences each time (though the “attempts to tattoo himself” thing is just funny). And yes, this text is copied and pasted each time. From now on I'll spare you and just call them Hot Potato traps. As you can see, this one can be prevented from working pretty easily even when triggered. Don't expect this again. This is Raggi's equivalent of a warning shot.
19. Eye of Many Eyes has a method of gaining infinite ability scores over time. Toss a coin into a basin here, and one of them will rise by one point. This only works once a month, and any attempts in between recharges will decrease them instead. This is the first thing Raggi describes about this room, which is strange because it looks like this.
Carved on the wall above the basin is a giant eyeball, with hundreds of additional eyeballs carved into the pupil. The smaller eyeballs will follow whoever is in sight. The eye sculpture, due to being covered in a thin layer of slime, will not appear to be stone unless closely examined… but it may be unnerving for the examiner to have hundreds of stone eyeballs looking them right in the eye.
Oh, and if you try to steal coins from the basin you're struck with illness and your constitution goes down to 4. What a strange collection of things this is, and if there's one room in this place which could do with artwork it's this one.
The adventure has now provided infinite ability scores, possible permanent immunity to everything, largely useless time travel and infinite sources of money to the patient, all peppered with random one-roll death. This is the pinnacle of D&D design for some people, folks. 20 is a room with a fountain in it and a door. Toss a coin in, get access.
So 21 . The final room described in this section before we reach the Big Mystery of the adventure? Yep, it's a crypt. With no treasure. And all the corpses are children.
Next Time: The mystery of Not Speaking With Plants, revealed!
Part 6Original SA post Death Frost Doom Part 6 (Final update)
Everybody turn to page 18 in your Players Handbook (the real one). Look at the Racial Preferences table. Dungeons and Dragons includes, and very much promotes, racism. . . .
. . . Racism is not objectively bad. Racism is only a real-world evil because people discriminate against each other on the false premise of racial superiority. There is no difference in the potential intelligence or achievement or emotional state or morality between a white man, black man, Hispanic, Asian, Eskimo, Indian, or any other person. None. The racist in the real world is a douche bag and a problem because his base suppositions are wrong: He is not superior, not by his blood, and if he claims racial superiority, not by his mind either.
In a fictional world, that often isn’t the case. Humans are different than elves are different than dwarves are different than orcs, and objectively so.
-James Edward Raggi IV, resolving hot topic issues
So. We’re still down here in this stupid dungeon. Have the map again.
If you didn’t follow it along in the last part, I don’t blame you. You don’t really need to do that now, either. You just need to know that we’ve covered 21 locations, so now at last we’re at location 22. And this location is central to whatever meager “plot” this module has.
22. High Priest’s Temple
The east entrance to this room is blocked by a great mass of hard and brittle spiked vines and branches and fibers, like a mess of kudzu and spider webs made from a material akin to coral. The vines are hollow, and the blowing air from the pit (see below) creates haunting melodies when passing through them. The sound is rather loud at this point. There is a shaft leading straight up at the doorway, and it goes 50’ up to a grate that opens in the middle of the graveyard (location A). The shaft is absolutely choked with the plant-thing though, and this is the source of the otherworldly sound in the area.
Yep, it‘s a plant. That‘s the mystery. But wait! Why would the ability to speak with plants ruin this adventure? Well, the adventures might decide to clear it out (being bored with the total lack of anything else to do), or assume this is what‘s been causing the nightmares. Plus it lashes out with tentacles if attacked. But if the adventurers kill it...
There is one more slight side-effect of the plant creature being defeated: It no longer produces the realitytwisting sounds. Controlling and ordering the plant to be silent will have this same effect. One turn after the noise stops, every corpse in the area will animate. See the section Hell Vomits Its Filth below for full details.
Hell Vomits Its Filth indeed. When the plant dies, every single corpse in the catacombs animates and become a zombie out for the party‘s blood. Why would being able to speak with the plant beforehand ruin this? That‘s right, the only reason the adventure would be a cakewalk for a party capable of speaking with plants is because then they might derail this stupid trap by being clever and using the tools at their disposal. Because then the players might have a choice .
But why is this plant here and how is it keeping the zombies down? WooOooOOoo, Weird Fiction, don‘t have to explain anything, shut up. After all, the essence of weird fiction is to be inspecific and only hint at-
There are 2,127 bodies buried on the surface in the clearing in front of the cabin. There are 1,762 bodies in the priest crypts, 1,814 bodies in the warrior crypts, 2,533 bodies in the commoner crypts, and 3,925 bodies in the child crypts. Every single one will animate if the plant creature stops making its noise.
NEVER FUCKING MIND
And yes, you‘re apparently meant to track each and every zombie, including rolling the hit points for each one the party encounters. Naturally, this horde comes with a bunch of additional rules designed to fuck the players over. For instance, turning undead arbitrarily doesn‘t work because the undead can‘t run anywhere in the press of bodies. And “Any appropriate protection spells will indeed work and keep undead at bay, but against such a mass of undead in an enclosed space, wards will not drive undead back.“ So the spells work, but they don‘t actually. Unless this horde is stopped, it will go down the mountain, pass by Zeke‘s cabin in about 24 hours and then roll on to whatever settlement might be in the vicinity.
This is where the clock in the cabin might come in handy. You can stop time and move around all you want during that period, so a single fighter might just turn back the clock, get twelve or so hours to work with and then hack away at the horde willy-nilly. That should take care of several thousand of them in one go. And because it takes so long for them to leave the mountain, they can recharge the clock by waiting for twelve hours and then do it again. So not only is this threat completely arbitrary and pointless, but it can be defused by one person with a lot of patience. This is not Raggi‘s suggestion, this is just how I would think to do it if I were playing this shitpile. I‘m pretty sure the author never even gave thought to the clock after writing it.
Incidentally, there‘s a secret door in this chamber. It reveals nothing. There‘s also an altar and a big pit down here. On the altar is some treasure.
Upon the altar are three items: Two golden goblets (worth 900 gold apiece, although they are dirty and will not seem valuable unless closely inspected) and the Book of Unspeakable Shame. This text lists the crimes of Duvan’Ku against nature, the cosmos, the gods, and all of greater creation. The entire text takes two months to read, is written in the language of Duvan’Ku, and after it is complete the reader must save versus spells or be Feebleminded. If this happens, the reader gains no benefits from the book and if healed must read the book again to attempt to gain the benefits. If the saving throw succeeds, the reader becomes immune from all mental attacks such as fear, charm, etc, forevermore. The reader also gains a 25 Wisdom. The book does detail literally unspeakable shame – the reader will never be able to articulate exactly what it is he has seen in the book to any other, and any reading his mind must make a saving throw versus spells or become Feebleminded. 2d4 weeks after completing the book (and only if the benefits are gained), 2d6 demons (of at least 8HD each) will appear to destroy the reader, as no mortal may have this knowledge.
A delayed action fuck you, nice. I don‘t even know how many routes to nigh infinite power this adventure has provided thus far. Anyway, the exits include... the pit?
23. Bottomless Pit
It‘s not literally bottomless. It‘s just so deep that a human would die of old age if they fell in it, and a young elf might live to impact on the bottom.
The inside of this pit is carved with a concentric circle pattern going downwards, with glowing phosphorescent paint (made from preserved fire beetle extract) in the grooves.
Ah yes, explaining every single extraneous detail, truly the essence of Edgar Allan Poe‘s style of writing. I‘m pretty sure at this point that Raggi has never read a single work by him despite thanking him for “inspiring” this crap. Also, Hot Potato! There’s an inscription here reading “Jump, My Child, and Experience the Infinite Forever”. If this is read aloud, hot potato! The one who fails the saving throw immediately jumps into the bottomless pit.
By the way, for no discernible reason anyone who goes more than a couple of miles down will no longer age or need food or drink or rest to survive. Yeah, now you know why old age was relevant.
Also hot damn Combat Encounter! A giant tarantula… what. Oh, whatever, a tarantula on a snowy mountain, it’s giant and in a magic immortality pit, whatever. Raggi doesn’t understand anything. Moving on. There’s a bunch of tombs.
24 is the Grand Inquisitor’s tomb with a poison needle trap in it (save or die, of course) and the treasure is a potion of growth and a goblet worth 500g. Because that fits a “grand inquisitor”.
25 , mausoleum of the guard. If the dead are walking, a wraith will ambush the party if no one specifically states they’re looking above the door after entering it. Actual combat encounter laced with the usual bullshit and no treasure, next.
26 is the mausoleum of the “honored sacrifice”. This room is sealed off. Inside it is a ghoul and three zombies. Also an altar that looks like a hand cradling an eye (ha ha clever Vecna reference I guess) and a rusted ceremonial blade. That’s it.
27 , mausoleum of the builder. Also sealed off.
Inside the room is a 10 foot square pyramid in the center of the room. It is about eight feet high, made of stone, and is coated with a strange glaze. The top two feet of the pyramid has a visible seam and comes away from the rest, but the glaze must be cracked in order to do this. If the top is removed, the wraith that is entombed within will emerge and attack.
There‘s a potion of gaseous form and a potion of delusion (which makes you think you just drank a potion of undead control). Still no logical reason for any of this to be here.
I just realized that when Raggi finally wrote actual monsters and combat into this adventure he resorted to making them a series of monster closets. What the fuck, dude.
28 , crypt (FFFF) of the Exalted Interrogator. Inside the sarcophagus in this room is a tunnel that leads to the real crypt with another sarcophagus which contains… holy shit, a mummy! These are kind of badass opponents in any D&D you care to name. It’s wearing a crown worth 1500g because treasure yay.
For no reason (as usual), there is a chimney in this room. Yes, really. And if you climb up it, it leads to the graveyard outside, despite there being no indication of this in the graveyard section. And you get automatically spotted by a ghoul if the dead are walking, and he and his buddies will just rain down the chimney at the party. It’s some kind of Christmas and I don’t know what kind.
29 , another fucking Crypt of the Blessed Blasphemer. Blah blah sealed, sharp bone spikes, there’s a ghoul (where did all these ghouls come from), and also an inscription: “This oath I swear under pain of death, and an eternity’s torment under bladed wings and fiery eyes.” Anyone reading this aloud who doesn‘t “live up to this ideal” is dragged by demons into hell to suffer torment for 1001 years, no save allowed.
There is no treasure.
30 . Mausoleum of the Ancient. Oh shit here there be plot. There is a box filled with dirt in this room, and to any old school player this will signal the presence of a vampire. Indeed, he’ll reconstitute his body from the mist playing about his crypt and introduce himself as Cyris Maximus, General Overlord of the Armies of Duvan’Ku. As in, the guy who oversaw this place.
Cyris is trapped in this entire tomb area thing, and wants out. The only way he can go out is if someone living willingly accompanies him. To prove his devotion, he… goes to area 29 and reads the description and has nothing happen to him. Of course. That will surely make anyone trust him. He then asks the party to repeat the verse, and as far as I can tell Raggi just forgot that it drags people to hell for 1001 years because nothing is supposed to happen to them. I guess that means Evil people can read it?
So why would the party want to have Cyris around? Because he can command lesser undead at will. Incidentally, he’ll expect the party to carry his sarcophagus, because being the baggage handler for an immortal invincible DMPC who magically resolves the situation (which the party could do on its own using frikkin’ TIME MANIPULATION ) is so very fun. And yes, it’s clear that accepting his help means that this insane cult will resurface and kill thousands more.
So what’s Raggi’s advice on using this vampiric general dude?
Cyris will prefer to stay in his coffin for the entire journey to town after the initial escape… or at least he will pretend to. At night he will escape his coffin in gaseous form and simply observe his rescuers, both to be aware of any treachery and to learn as much as he can about the world that has marched on for so long without him. The referee is encouraged to come up with all sorts of ways to delay the party or endanger their mission. If the nearest town is some distance, and the party can get there well ahead of any undead horde, it is possible that they could be stopped by a patrol that wants to inspect their cargo. Maybe there’s been a smuggling ring operative in the area. Perhaps thieves in the night see how protective the party is of their big box and conspire to steal it. There is a ton of fun to be had with a party that is bound to some duty they really don’t care for.
Be an incredibly annoying manchild about it. Of course. Once the party reaches the nearest town, a bunch of skeletal pegasi bearing “reapers” come to take the sarcophagus away, and that’s that. Plot over.
Oh, wait, there’s one last room in the dungeon still.
31. Sacrifical Poem
Read it, and Hot Potato occurs. The character who fails immediately commits suicide. The person reading the words gains a permanent hit point. The end.
That was pretty bad.
But worry not! I’d like to leave this last message for you to properly show what my sanity is like after all this.
Raggi has a Deluxe Edition!