Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Deep Carbon Observatory by False Machine

So ... this is it, the Deep Carbon Observatory.

It is a D&D adventure. It is something I would have liked to have written and something I would like to run. Here's the description:
The adventure takes players from a town devastated by an unexpected flood, through a drowned land where nature is turned upside down and desperate families cling to the roofs of their ruined homes, hiding from the monstrous products of a disordered world, through the strange tomb of an ancient race, to a profundal zone, hidden for millennia and now exposed, and finally to the Observatory itself, an eerie abandoned treasure palace, where they will encounter a pale and unexpected terror which will seek to claim their lives.
At the final point of the Observatory is a glimpse of another world.
Deep Carbon Observatory is about 90 pages long, 20,000 words with four maps and extensive artwork by Scrap Princess.
It was created by Patrick Stuart  and Scrap Princess. The layout was by Alex Mayo and it was brought into being at the command of Zzarchov Kowalski
If you prefer top-down maps, Gus L has created some for this adventure for free. Go here to access them.
End quoty bit. Now for my judgemental review:

What it does really well:

  • It captures the transition from ordinary-if-struck-by-tragedy to terribly weird and strange, twisting old D&D tropes like drow, duergar and the like into something far more scary and weird. No Drizz't here, the drow are smelled like tantalising alien shadows in the back of your eye sockets.
  • It captures a valley society struck by a (natural?) catastrophe and faces the PCs with something larger than themselves, with hard choices and difficult outcomes and a ticking clock - if the PCs leave and do nothing: fine, but then there will be consequences for their setting.
  • It serves up memorable scenes, really cool items, fun and funky new monsters and loads of tricks you can steal piece-meal for your campaign - or use all together for a fun extended jaunt into Carrowmere.
  • It gives a competing adventuring party (the Crows) to harass and annoy the players.
  • There's a Wicked Witch.
  • It's interspersed with random tables for interesting results and plot hooks to take your campaign into weird new waters.
  • It doesn't hold players (or DMs!) by the hand - it tosses all into the deep end to sink in deep time.
  • Seriously, my points here are - it gives you pretty much everything you need for 4-8 sessions of gaming, depending on your style (my style of games would probably end up at the higher end of that amount) - which for $10 is a steal.

What it doesn't do so well:

  • The layout means that the fantabulous weirdness and interconnectedness of the adventure only becomes obvious once the whole document is read. A quick glossary of the key factions, enemies and locales (perhaps a semi visual or diagrammed one?) would really have helped me at the outset. At least to draw my attention to things (e.g. pay attention to the mummy, the golems are important, the witch is a big deal, hey, there's a second - sparsely detailed - adventuring expedition besides the crows!).
  • The overland adventure is a point-crawl and time is an important resource - I don't really have an idea how long travelling from point to point takes. This is quite an issue - additional information on the overland maps would have helped me here. I usually deal with this by writing in days (or fractions of days) on key connections between locations.
  • The time for the adventure to elapse seems incredibly short. Players have a very limited time to get in to the Observatory, do their thing and get out. I only realised this after I got to the end - putting this information at the beginning, along with the faction glossary, would have helped me.
  • The editing is ok, it reads well, but some of the key opponents (the wicked witch!) don't stand out enough. I don't know what would be the perfect solution, but this is a really complex and interesting adventure: it would require more than just a simple linear layout - I don't have a solution on this.

What I would have loved to see:

  • Hyperlinks in the .pdf to make it simpler and faster to look up stuff and connect the dots.
  • Tables of the treasures and monsters for faster looting thereof for my own games!
  • A living flailsnail (there are some dead ones).
  • The stats for a heavy metal elemental.

The Summary

It is something I would have liked to have written and something I would like to run. I'm repeating myself, I know, but it's really worth its $10 - with a teensy bit of tweaking and poking it's basically a weird and wonderful setting book.

Is it perfect? Well ... no. But it is memorable and fun, which adds up to a lot!