Tuesday, February 5, 2019

DCC: The Queen of Elfland's Son

The band continued their adventures with DCC #97 - The Queen of Elfland's Son.  After surviving the horrors of Brandolyn Red, the peasant adventurers leveled up to proper DCC classes and sought further opportunities for glory.  My usual spoilery review/play impressions follow the break.

The Queen of Elfland's Son is a level 1 adventure by Michael Curtis.  It would be an understatement to say that I am a fan of Mr. Curtis' writing.  His name appears on more books in my library than any other name, Gary Gygax included.  I consider his Stonehell dungeon a masterpiece and the perfect introduction to running a megadungeon and his Dungeon Alphabet and Adventurer's Almanac books are two of the best creative resources in the hobby.  So obviously, I knew I was gonna like this one.  From the back cover:
Strange attacks in the night plague the people of Eng.  Slaughter and shadows keep the villagers inside after dark.  Mighty adventurers are needed to seek out the source of these threats and stop them for good.  This quest will take the heroes to the very borders of Elfland and pit them against the cruelty of the Unseelie Court of Faerie.  Will the heroes overcome the machinations of the Queen of Elfland or will they fall victim to the glamours and wiles of Elfland's malicious nobility?
Michael Curtis has returned to the well of Appendix N literature for inspiration before with great success, such as his Manly Wade Wellman inspired Shudder Mountains adventures and setting.  For this module, he has thrown a gender-bender on Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter.  The gender swap is representative of the change in rulership in Elfland as the Unseelie Court is currently in power, and the hopeless love quest of Lord Dunsany's story is replaced with a vicious quest for retribution and vengeance.

The highlight of this adventure is how it presents the denizens of the realm of fey, from a deranged, blood-caked unicorn massacring the locals, to the weird polished wood armor and skull helms of the faerie guards, to the cold breath of the mossy norggens, to the goblins roasting a farmer to server at the Prince's court.  While I absolutely love Tolkien, and his stories were my introduction to fantasy, these elves are many worlds away from the professor's Quendë.  It was wonderful playing these elves and engaging in as much lying and deception and violence as I felt like, reveling in their Chaotic nature.

There are three main locales for the adventure: the village of Eng, farmer Marrow's farm, and the Faerie Mound.  Eng is the least developed, unfortunately.  In just a few sentences, Michael Curtis paints a perfectly suitable picture of a farming village and it suffices fine.  I still would have liked the village described more because that sort of quaint village with a history of dealings with fey courts and a duke's sins passed onto his sons and folklore and legend is exactly the sort of village that could be so easily dropped into any game.  The adventure is not hurt at all by bypassing further village meanderings, but those villages are increasingly missing in the OSR market.

Marrow's farm provides the main hook and an exciting encounter that upends player expectations early.  From the farm it is expected the players will investigate the Faerie Mound.  There is also an old wood nearby, shown on the map and provided a brief description, but nothing to encounter there.  Haunted woods are always a good adventure site though - I'd recommend mining Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne cycle for filler here.

The bulk of the adventure takes place within the faerie mound.  This dungeon environment is 15 rooms, with a map by Stefan Poag.  The DCC line has always showcased a lot of artistic talent (the cover by Sanjulien is beautiful) but I am always thrown off seeing a DCC map not by Doug Kovacs.  Fortunately, Stefan Poag brings his own wonderful style to it, providing a clear, easy to read map with border embellishments, and Doug Kovacs is still present in the module with several pieces of interior art, including a two-page spread depicting Farrah and Tiarella encountering the unseelie unicorn.

The dungeon does not feel like the usual dark, dank, musty crypt, but instead is lit in other-wordly magical fires and has strange plants and flowers growing in the cracks between stones.  Nature is a dominant feature of the dungeon in every description.  There are 15 keyed areas and effectively two paths through the dungeon, with opportunity to change between them and most of the rooms optional.  It is possible, though unlikely, to pass through as little as three encounter areas before meeting the Prince.  My group went through nine of the encounters by completion, missing out a significant portion but hitting the main rooms necessary.  The encounters are an interesting mix because of the variety of inhabitants to encounter and the opportunity to negotiate and manipulate the different creatures.  My players mostly took a stealth and surprise attack strategy to creep through, but still managed to cow the kitchen goblins and gain valuable insight into the layout and goings-on in the mound.  There is plenty of opportunity to pursue other tactics, including disguises or recruiting additional help from within the mound.

This is definitely a tough module for a pack of level 1 adventurers if they expect to just go smash their way through.  Any single faerie guard or fir bolg could drop a level 1 adventurer easily enough, and the connections between rooms and tunnels could make for treacherous fighting terrain if an alarm is surrounded and flanking opportunities exploited.  The Prince and his henchman, Herne the Huntsman, are both worthy foes, with the former employing a variety of magic to subdue opponents and the latter matching the best warriors in Mighty Deeds.

I have noticed that many modules, despite the admonitions of the rulebook, throw an excess of treasures both magical and mundane at the characters.  This module comes up noticeably short in that regard.  There are a few magical items but they are easy to miss, consumable, or just tricky to use.  The village of Eng provides a meager reward for adventurers and it is easy to miss most additional monetary rewards the mound can offer - most fey treasures fade away in the light of the mortal realm.  In lieu of these rewards, The Queen of Elfland's Son provides a lasting impact on a campaign.  The King of Elfland has always been one of the primary patrons available to wizards in DCC, so becoming entangled in the politics of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts should draw lasting repercussions.  Prince Ashheart, if defeated, has significant bargaining power to avoid death, so he is likely to feature as a recurring antagonist for any party that meddles in his affairs.  And the Queen herself, the namesake of the module, makes no appearance in this adventure but her will is felt throughout and suggests a powerful nemesis for future adventures.  In fact, Michael Curtis promises in the conclusion that her vendetta against the mortal realms will be further explored in a sequel yet to come.  I look forward to seeing what comes next from these hooks.

The Queen of Elfland's Son was a fun adventure with our group.  It's weird and magical and just a little creepy at times and it has set a unique tone on our campaign following They Served Brandolyn Red.  We completed the adventure in two sessions, about 7 hours of total play, although we left a significant portion of the dungeon unexplored, and ongoing troubles with the twilight people could have easily extended this adventure for another session or two.  For added value, this is one of the first modules that Goodman Games began selling as a Print + PDF bundle, which is a boon for judges like myself who can only tolerate reading print but use the PDF for quickly copying information into Roll20.  I recommend this for any DCC fan, but particularly for judges looking to kick off a campaign with some intriguing long-term implications.

No comments:

Post a Comment