Wednesday, February 20, 2019

DCC: Doom of the Savage Kings


Here we go.  The band continues with an adventure that is second only to the ultimate funnel and quintessential DCC adventure Sailors on the Starless SeaDCC #66.5 - Doom of the Savage Kings is the perfect follow-up to whatever funnel produced your adventurers.  In an desolate land, a mythical beast torments the people and the local jarl has taken to human sacrifices to placate its awesome appetite.  The adventure is a heavy metal infused sandbox mystery with a supernatural threat looming over every nightfall.  Spoilers after the break!
This level 1 adventure was written by Harley Stroh.  From the back cover:
High above the windswept moors and darksome woods, the village of Hirot is under siege. Each night, as the sun sinks beneath the western mountains and the candles burn low, a devil-beast stalks the village streets, unleashing its savage fury on the living. From warlord to pauper, crone to child, no one is safe.
Defeating the immortal hound will require more than mere blades or even spells. To slay the beast, the characters must delve into the mysteries of the land and its Savage Kings. Only then, armed with relics forged from a bloody past, can the most cunning and courageous of adventurers challenge the Hound of Hirot!
The module describes an expectation of a three act structure.  Act I: The Village of Hirot, introduces the PCs to the dismal circumstances the village face, provides a number of interesting NPCs to interact with, and includes some lore of legend to discover.  Act II: The Tomb of Ulfheonar, features a dungeon for crawling and a powerful artifact to recover.  Act III: The Sunken Fen is the stage of the final showdown between the PCs, hopefully armed with the appropriate knowledge and arsenal, and the Hound of Hirot.  Slaying the foul beast will release the village from its cursed nightmare and propel the PCs to heroic status among the village.

New villages, keyed with useful locales and NPCs with purpose and meaning, continue to be the biggest deficit in OSR offerings, so the village of Hirot is a welcome addition.  Hirot is a walled village with the jarl's meadhall overlooking it from a high northern hill.  There are plenty of keyed locations including an inn, a chapel, a mad witch, nine craftsmen to cover any equipment needs, and the meadhall itself.  The characters in Hirot run the gamut of influence, morality, honesty, and usefulness to the party.  Even though this is a small village, even by RPG standards, it is easy to become embroiled in the conflicts of this small village.

The dungeon in Doom of the Savage Kings is also a very small affair with 10 keyed rooms, and it is fairly linear.  The primary path is through seven of those locations, although there is a possibility of finding a way through in four rooms.  Two locations are entirely optional but not irrelevant, as they include treasure, traps, and monsters that can aid or hinder the adventurers.  Two highlights of the dungeon are a door that is essentially unopenable, providing a judge an easy location to lay additional adventuring opportunity, and an inspiringly devised collapsing ceiling trap.  I actually used this particular trap elsewhere a year or so ago.  It can easily be slotted into any dungeon, which is always nice to see.

The finale may be the weakest part of the adventure since it does not introduce any new NPCs, information, or provide a map.  There is a regional map showing where the village, the dungeon, and the fens relate to each other, but nothing specific for the lair of the Hound itself and the encounter with the hound is written to get straight to the battle without unnecessary exploration, although there is a random encounter table of seven obstacles or monsters to impede the adventurers.  I have a hard time using random encounters when there is no map, personally.  It just seems odd to tell the players that they wander around for a while and then swamp jackals attack.  Wander some more and then fall into some mud springs.

That said, the Hound is a tough monster for any level 1 party and they'll need to be prepared here.  The lair provides a nice bit of treasure for successful adventurers and the interactions in Hirot may provide reward or complication in equal measure.

As always, the cartography and artwork is top notch.  Doug Kovacs provides the cover art, three maps, and a half dozen interior pieces.  Stefan Poag handles the rest of the interior art.  I think my favorite piece in this one is Stefan Poag's battle against the tomb ghoul/serpents.  The Hound on the cover is also a terrifyingly weird monster.


I've run this adventure twice now and they went quite differently.  The first time the adventurers went to Hirot and spent considerable time investigating rumors and legend and meeting all of the inhabitants of the village, then bribed the gang in the flophouse for directions to the tomb.  The tomb proved too deadly for them, with half the party lost to snake bite, ghoul claw, and collapsing ceiling.  They returned to the village and met the mad widow and one of the PCs agreed to marry the old crone in exchange for help defeating the Hound.

This latest run, the band had extraordinary luck.  They waited at the standing stones and faced the Hound right away, defeating it pretty quickly.  As it evaporated, they decided to chase its mist form back to its lair.  With only a general sense of direction, they stumbled around half the night until they came upon the tomb, which they took for its lair.  They easily hacked through the tomb's inhabitants, bested the traps, and claimed the wolf-spear.  After this, they wandered further and came to the sunken fens where they found and slew the Hound, having never bothered visiting Hirot.  Fate was on their side this adventure and they claimed all the treasures and glory with little loss of life, outside some new peasant followers they'd picked up.

Either way, Doom of the Savage Kings deserves its reputation in the top tier of Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures.

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