SO...this morning, finally had a chance to read Kabuki Kaiser's new monster of an adventure, Castle Gargantua. If the name is familiar, you may recall a prior review I did of his Ruins of the Undercity, back in 2013. Truth be told, as I reread what I wrote about RotU, it may not have been the most flattering review I could have given the thing, but I did like the book. There's nothing wrong with creatively adapting existing work (Fiend Folio, DMG) to a new type of madness. Then again, the place I was in (at the time) wasn't probably the best place for giving puffy reviews.
Today I'm in an even fouler mood...but I think I can still up the positivity. I only have a few minutes to write, however.
|"Kabuki's Big Adventure"|
Sounds like some sort of typical, vanity-project megadungeon, yeah? Sure it does...but it's not.
While the game includes maps (by Dyson Logos, whose work is excellent, as usual), these are only used for a handful of specific locations/scenarios. For the most part, Castle Gargantua goes un-mapped, instead being coded with a number of themed areas: stone, blood, wine, gold, etc. When one enters an area, a handful of dice are rolled to generate the contents based on specific tables tied to the theme. Yes, this is random seeding of the dungeon (Castle Gargantua owes part of its inspiration to In Search of the Unknown), resulting in a different experience each time the dungeon is delved by a different group of players.
The themes repeat multiple times, but the exact order does not, and the whole thing is tracked on a simple "Chutes and Ladders" (i.e. "Snakes and Ladders") style table, color coded by theme and numbered from 1 (the entrance) to 35 (the "end," more or less). The random dungeon pieces Kaiser used in Ruins has been simplified and streamlined...you still have random room-shapes, but the organized theme helps give unity to the whole thing.
And the themes are pretty crazy...this is psychedelic-Gothic-mumbo-jumbo of a very high level. Bloodstone megaliths and hybrid golems, leprous troglodytes and monstrous angora cats, with wandering clockwork guardsmen that are rarely the same appearance twice. Plus the massive scale of the thing...where there are maps, it's 60' to the square with gigantic furniture designed to make one feel insignificant (or, at least, small and nervous). Personally, I love the idea, especially the idea that there are windows and balconies that might lead to unexpected methods of egress (or ingress) for enterprising players.
Unlike some products that feature random tables heavily, Castle Gargantua is not one where the rolling is required so often as to disrupt game play. In fact, a DM could simply plot the game ahead of time (via the random tables) in preparation for a session (not unlike the random stocking of B1 that is part of that module's prep). I guess I'd say the randomness is only as intrusive as you'd like it to be, unlike some adventures, or even systems (DCC, I'm looking at you).
All in all, it's a very tasty adventure, and the first "megadungeon" I've seen that I'd actually be interested in running. Castle Gargantua is ostensibly "system neutral," though it has a definite Lamentations of the Flame Princess vibe to it (not only with the gothic-horror themes but the use of terms like "specialist" instead of "thief." It's level neutral as well, being designed to scale based on the average party level, which makes it pretty nice for groups in the low-mid range. For me, I'd like to run it with Michael Thomas's Blueholme Prentice Rules...for all the gore and scandal, I think there's plenty of whimsy in the adventure, too. It reads much more like a dark fairytale to me than...well, than anything else I can remember seeing for Dungeons & Dragons, save (perhaps) for some of the old UK modules (still, those weren't terribly "dark"). It's still D&D, however.
If I have any real criticism of the thing (other than the fact that it will take more prep than most packaged adventures), it's that some of the encounters/weird traps look a little tough/tricky to run...problematic, even. This may just be me being sick and stuffed up in the head, but I had trouble grokking a couple of the set encounter areas (Mirror, Mirror and Third Lodge). And the Hall of Wondrous Pools just looks like a bear given the sheer size and scale of the thing. Even so, the thing is neat enough I'd be willing to give it a shot.
The PDF for Castle Gargantua can be purchased here for a measly $5 ($10 if you want it softcover, $20 for hardcover; PDF also comes with the print copy).