Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review: Death Frost Doom

  My relationship with modules and ABOP (adventures by other people) is complex; In the '70's and '80's i ran many "official" modules set in Greyhawk for one of my groups. The other group was all-new, all-original Seaward. Most of the modules were gifts, as was Greyhawk.
  Now every year I take a 'classic' module and run it at Halloween. I have play tested a few (notably A Baker's Denizen which I modified to fit), and I will steal a map or a monster here and there. I like to occasionally use a map by someone else, totally restocked, to avoid becoming too predictable.

  But I do not like just using ABOP; they are usually very, very heavily modified unless it is a Halloween adventure. And while I really enjoy a few contemporary adventures, I usually don't get much more than elements for my own games from the work of other people.
  That's me, not you. I am idiosyncratic and quirky, so are my campaigns. My Hudson City based campaign for Champions is so modified I am, in the end, just using the map.

  But I do review things. And I am rather frankly merciless in my reviews. After the 8th person in 4 months asked me to review Death Frost Doom I said,

"I ain't buying it."
When they gave me their copy, I was on the hook. I am told this is the original version.

How I am Reviewing
I am drinking G&T's while I do a 'read through and review' where I give first impressions, so it might end up a drunk blog, too.
Then I will sum up.
No edits!

Spoilers to Follow

Notes
I've heard of it, but never much more. I got 'Better Than Any Man' sent to me some time ago, but stopped reading it after a few pages. LotFP is close to an enigma for me. Thus, fresh eyes!

Read Through
Cover is meh. There is some skill, but perspective doesn't work that way. Maybe it is my brain damage.
Title page is annoying. Faux Norse runes with a hard to read title? Is there a lot of Norse mythology in this, or is this 'atmosphere'?

Solid shout out to the pulps on the intro and a solid discussion of how this is for low, even very low, level characters.
The Approach is OK and flexible.

Zeke Duncaster - This section is annoying. A really, really "colorful" character that would fit right into a badly written episode of the Beverly Hillbillies lives on the mountain. He is a 'skillful hunter and trapper' and totally incompetent at everything else, including the things that make a skillful hunter and trapper. A camp in the wilderness covered in blood, skins, and waste = bears and other predators. A trapper that cannot skin or stuff = terrible trapper. He is often gone, but never for more than 40 minutes, so he sort of... wanders around within sight of his lousy hut?! The descriptions of what he does, how he does things, etc. give me the impression the writer never even visited a working farm, let alone went hunting and trapping. To top it off we have this,

"He is hard of hearing, so he has made himself a bone ear horn... He will forget that he can’t quite understand speech so well anymore so he will misinterpret the PCs’ words until he realizes his error and fetches his horn."
So he is effectively deaf, but just four paragraphs later,
"If he is sleeping, he will wake up when approached unless it is someone moving silently that is approaching"
Which is it? Is he a skillful hunter that automatically awakens when someone approaches unless they make no noise, or is he so deaf he can't understand someone standing next  to him and speaking loudly?
His actions are, effectively, idiotic.
"[He will] simply stand if attacked without running or defending himself in any way."
Doesn't bode well.
He is written almost nothing like the pulps but very similarly to the Odd Guy in the direct-to-video knockoffs of Friday the 13th from the '80's.

The Surface- The cabin, if single storey, appears to be as large as a contemporary American house, so this might be weird. The description is OK and obviously meant to give you ideas to creep out players, but now we learn you can't even bring familiars up here and if you leave animals with Zeke he'll kill and eat them. Hooray for railroading and off-screen punishments!

The Graveyard- Interesting. Basically a time limit on adventuring, it will force a party to move in, explore for an hour or 3, and then leave to camp or run the risk of not getting spells back.  Not a bad mechanic or idea.

As we go on there is a fair amount of useless info. Names of a man that cannot be learned, a shaft that effectively can't be found, a sentient tree that can't move, communicate, or so anything else.

The Cabin- There is an old joke that authors have no sense of scale. Seems legit - the place has a ground floor of over 1,500 square feet and is not laid out like a "cabin" but like a single level ranch with a walkout. The sound effect is fun, but the entire 'take a nap and you could DIE!' bit is a little goofy.
The description of the cabin varies between fun (chairs face the entrance, now matter which) to the goofy (how the Hell could anyone ever learn the book is bound in the skin of virgin elves?!). There are shout outs to more low-budget '80's VCR films
There is a clock on the wall with a rather odd time effect. Like a lot of other notes it seems useless and nonsensical but if figured out can be totally gamebreaking.
Then there is a great deal about a painting. Lots of words. About a painting. That has no impact on the plot, or the characters. But its creepy, boo! So lots of words. About a painting. That does nothing.
Then a knockoff of a Rolemaster effect, but fun.

The Shrine- The description convinces me that the guy who wrote this doesn't understand distances and travel. Walk with me.

Zeke's cabin is 8 hours away. Zeke will fight you to keep you from going, so when you arrive it will probably be after at least 8 hours. If you explore the graveyard, etc. at all, add 2-3 hours. Cabin exploration = same. Yet you have to move at least 5 hours away to rest to avoid any penalties and dodge the chance of not getting spells back. Sleep in the cabin? 1 in 4 chance of taking a d4 of damage. So you gotta' move back and forth for days just to find out if sleeping will kill the (low level) characters.
Now we learn that if you sleep underground you WILL take damage (up to 10 points!), you WILL gain an insanity, and there is a good shot you are possessed and/or aged up to 20 years. How do you learn this?
Seems the only way to to fall asleep and then die without warning.
So if the party figures this out with no warning, and if the party carefully experiments, and if the party is cautious the must:

-Leave camp and walk (no animals) at least 5 hours to the cabin, then descend into the shrne area. 
-Explore for 1-2 hours
-Return to camp to cleep
Anything else and they probably die in their sleep.
Oooh. Scary.

Going On.
The Shrine description flat-out admits that there is plenty of treasure to be had, no wandering monsters, and the party might very well never have any encounters. The comment,
"...they will likely be unsatisfied with the adventure as a whole"
seems legit.

On to the dungeon.
Creepy faces that might yell stuff. Creepy Door that doesn't do anything. A creepy room with skeletal hands on tables.


Scary!

A shout out to the Yellow Sign.
An evil chapel where you can hear the rattle of ghostly chains.


Scary!
There is an organ made of bones.


Ooooh! Scary!

If you can't tell, I'm not feeling it.

The Ring of Vanishing is pretty good, a not-quite-cursed item that is still handy. The Grimoire of Walking Flesh is a decent shout out to Frankenstein and a nice way to point out that evil PCs perish easily.

Huh.
There is a section that says this,
"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."
No limit is mentioned.
Walk with me again.

No random encounters. You can get to this section with no traps or barriers. No limit. So you camp five hours away and send henchmen for food and the party slips in and spend 12 turns a day scouring this area earning an average of about 265 gp a day. This means the party could easily earn 7,500 gp in a month after expenses with no risk.
There are other areas with more or less the same sort of rules, all accessible. A party could easily dig 20,000 gp out of the crypts with no actual risk or challenge. At 1st level.

Moving on.
You might try to give yourself a cursed tattoo. 
A magic fountain (kinda')! I love those! Very good with an anti-thievery bit. Nice touch.
A plant (that is a fairly obvious Fiend Folio creature made immobile) that is pretty darn tough for a low level party and if you kill it you pretty much just triggered Night of the Living Dead. On to the blocked area.
There is a rather goofy insta-kill thing (discussed at length below) in the blocked area, an effect that takes TPK to over 9000!
There is a book that either ruins you or gets you killed.

There is a bottomless pit that is truly ridiculously deep and I don't think the author realized how freakin' fast a clever party turns,
'A pit so deep it takes maybe 2,000 years in freefall to hit the bottom' 
into
'Welp, we fixed THAT problem forever, too!'.
Rough napkin math means the pit is a lightsecond deep, so it is extra-dimensional (?) and has effectively endless surface area for campaign purposes. Are there civilizations down there? Can it be dispelled? 

More tombs full of creatures vastly overpowered for a party of 3rd level or lower, although some might not be activated yet, depending. The writing seems to forget who the target party is.

Here is an example of how the writing seems mismatched with the adventure,
"When the PCs approach his door, he will be in gaseous form, and not solidify until he has appraised the situation and knows who he would need to eliminate first if it came to that." 
'He' is a vampire. Not a fake one, a real one, with the ability to command the undead underground. Why is this a mismatch?
The intro suggests that this adventure is too tame for parties with a 7th level character in it and really thinks it should be a party of 3rd or lower level.
To a vampire no one in a party under 6th level is any form of real threat to him at all! 

And, of course, if you kill the plant you release about 10,000 zombies and over 1,200 ghouls on the surrounding countryside, probably killing the party.

End read through, with the worst for last. Quote;
"The pit is several thousand feet deep, and leads to the nostrils of a great sleeping giant. Ages ago, it fell asleep here, and the mountain is the result of millions of years of dust forming and solidifying over it. Only three things will wake it up: Dropping anything into the pit that will do 10 or more points of damage (it won’t injure it, just wake it up), plugging the hole (although it will not awaken for d6 x d6 turns), or actually climbing down there and walking around inside its nose. If the giant wakes up, the mountain will be instantly destroyed, crushing everything in it and on it to jelly – no saving throw. Anything in its nose will last a second longer until it picks its nose and a one hundred foot long finger crushes everything. Perhaps one could escape into the nasal cavity, but such things are beyond the scope of this humble text."
That's just ridiculous. This will be almost impossible to fit into any existing campaign. What does it have to do with the cult? How does a mountain form from dust? How did the cult not awake the Godzilla-sized giant over the thousands of years they were prancing about over his breathing tube? If he wakes up what happens to the bottomless pit? How does the giant waking up insta-kill the vampire that is gaseous? 

Immediate Afterthoughts
It really feels like the author read the description of a particular monster in the Field Folio, decided to turn it into a trap, and then he put a few more traps around it, then wrote it up as a PDF.
There is a ton of effectively useless detail crammed in. Some I mentioned before (names and details the PCs can't ever learn) and other details that are just annoying, like the calligraphy that covers the outside of the cabin but carries no meaning or details. Normally I'd say 'a time sink/resource waster' but there is no time limit and no encounters to save resources for....

Only 1 G&T, so no drunk blog.

Final Thoughts the Next Day
My short review is,
"Uneven but there are things there worth using elsewhere, 2 out of 5".

My longer review is - this is not a dungeon, it is three traps strung together with horror movie references and Goosebumps-level flavor text. If it wasn't for the magic fountainesque item and the magical ring I'd give it one star.