So in the wake of yesterday’s debacle, I finally got around to purchasing Death Frost Doom in downloadable, PDF form. Normally, I prefer to buy a print copy, and I am always wary of buying anything on-line…but I was feeling a little “down” and was willing to pay $5 for immediate gratification in the form of an OSR product I’d read so many good things about.
It was $5 well spent.
Death Frost Doom is a little gem of an adventure. Does that sound condescending? I hope not…’cause as any veteran adventurer would tell you, one should always go for the small precious gems over the heaping bags of coins any day of the week…less jingling to attract wandering monsters and more bang for your buck outside the dungeon.
Just to carry the analogy a little further, Death Frost Doom is helluva' nice little score. Personally, I’d recommend anyone buying it…but if you’re not the normal Dungeon Master of your group I’d suggest forcing your regular DM to buy it and run you through it FIRST. It’s really pretty nifty.
The following, in no particular order, are my impressions and the adventure’s highlights from my particular design perspective. I’ll try not to include any spoilers.
- It’s nicely written. It is also written in a much lighter tone than what I expected. Though I don’t know why I expected otherwise, unless it was something about Raggi’s on-line “tough guy-ness.” Raggi may sometimes blog like he’s spoiling for a fight, but there’s nothing nasty or confrontational in his adventure.
- From my perspective, it’s not nearly as “gloom and doom,” end of the world stuff as I expected. Sure Very Bad Things can happen, but even should they do so, I see nothing here that wrecks or demolishes a campaign world (unless you use a very small and localized setting). Yes, you might give yourself some interesting challenges in the near future, but nothing that couldn’t be “fixed” by the characters themselves given the right application of resources.
- The adventure has some very clever mechanics to it. Yes, it is chilly and eerie in tone, but that wouldn’t of itself be enough to create the paranoia within players. The additional mechanics of the adventure scenario DOES. Which is quite cool.
- Actually on 2nd pass, the main reason the mechanics work is probably due to the mood stuff set up in “prelude” to the formal dungeon (the hermit, the graveyard, and the cabin). When you consider THAT, the whole module is really very clever. Though I can’t tell for sure without running the thing, it really appears to be quite dastardly.
To me, much of this module resonates to a similar chord as WG4 (The Temple of Tharizdun). However, unlike WG4 the “ancient secrets” in DFD are much more accessible. This, too, I find to be very cool. Bombs were (unfortunately) made to explode, and Raggi’s adventure is set up in such a way that the average aggressive dungeon delvers are going to trip the firing pin…which as a DM is kind of what you want to see happen. Likewise, there are fairly concrete consequences to setting off the bomb, not just “oh make up something based on the needs of your campaign.” This, too, I like.
[of course in WG4, I would find it difficult to believe anyone would stumble upon the secrets unless already initiated into the weird-ass workings of Gygax’s DMing style…as I said, I think Raggi’s “hideous unspeakable” is much more accessible]
While the module resonates to the overall “theme” of WG4, its actual, physical setting is even more reminiscent of C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. However, Death Frost Doom in tone makes C1 look like Dungeonland…it’s SO grim and SO dark…as if the Evil Dead films had all the fun, humor, and humanity removed from them.
I don’t think funny hats are appropriate to Death Frost Doom.
Anyway, anyone hoping for Tomb of Horrors or a typical TSR-style module will be left in the lurch. People who are open-minded to the nature of D&D will still need to leave “whimsy” at the door for this one (again, no hats unless very respectful and fully functional). Personally, I like the thing, and it could represent a challenge for even Companion-level characters (well, the consequences unleashed on the world would be a suitable challenge for high level characters…). I will totally run this at Dragonflight if I can get on the schedule (got to whip up some 3rd level pre-gens first, though).
Last note: I really, REALLY like the lack of any kind of D&D-esque, pseudo-medieval time setting. The adventure feels much more “Old World” European and would be perfectly at home in a Warhammer Fantasy RPG game. Things like the clock in the cabin (reminiscent of the Peter S. Beagle’s Last Unicorn), not to mention the Lovecraftian/millennial time line are little touches that help knock the setting outside the stereotypical D&D/Palladium Fantasy/Exalted world setting. And I really dig anything that does THAT.