Thursday, October 15, 2009

Death Frost Doom Review/Play Report

This is from a few weeks ago. It was originally posted on Mandy Morbid's blog, but I wrote it, so I figured I'd post it here, too, so that all my D&D stuff would be in one place:

If any of you are following or involved in the Old School Dungeons & Dragons revival, then you've probably heard of Death Frost Doom, the new adventure written by Old School D&D Blog Overlord James Edward Raggi IV.

It has gotten rave reviews around the Old School D&D blogworld for its creepy and fatalistic atmosphere, as well as its horror-movie-like cruelty. Most people run through it die or go insane or both. Plus you can download it for 5 bucks off the web.

Anyway, Mandy was bored today and her eye was infected so she couldn't play video games, so we downloaded Death Doom Frost and ran it as a solo adventure.

Here's how it went:



So in addition to her old stand-by, Tizani Ildiko, 3rd Level Cleric of Vorn, Mandy rolled up a Dwarf Fighter (Gowron) and an Elf Sorceress (Ilona)--both first level.

(Gamers may want to know at this point what system we used--we used a mongrel of 1st edition AD&D (because that's what we'd been playing with our friends up until now and because we like it) and edition 3.5 (because that's all Mandy has the books for at the moment because someone gave them to her)(However, edition ended up not mattering at all much because see below).

So I tell Mandy that the Sister Superior of Vorn has told her to fetch a certain book that is rumored to be on a mountiantop, in a place of great evil. Then I put on "Ceremony of Opposites" by Samael. ( I would've put on colder, doomier things like Wolves In The Throne Room and Amebix's "Winter" but I played them to death during our last session which was heavy on wolf demons, witches, hunters and other wintry paganisms.)

Mandy laughs because "There is a place of great evil in the wilderness" is exactly what a priestess says at the beginning of Diablo and you hear it a million times if you play Diablo.

So anyway, these three trudge up the frozen mountain and encounter the weird old backwoods disturbing hick who warns you not to go up to the cabin on top of the mountain.

Now, there is a thing that will happen if you fuck with this guy, and a thing that will happen if you try to walk past him when he warns you not to head up the mountain.

But Mandy did not do these things. She pretended to be going around the mountain, walked off into the woods, then continued the path up to the cabin, so neither of these things happened.

Mandy heard The Disturbing Sounds and did not follow them to their source.

Then Mandy saw The Nightmarish Tree. She gave The Nightmarish Tree a wide berth.

Nor did she investigate The Stone Well. Likewise she saw The Frozen Corpse and fucked not with it. Nor did she do any of the things you're not supposed to do in The Graveyard.

Not having much else to do, she went into The Cabin.

She looked at The Clock, The Bizarre Painting, The Harpsichord, The Chairs That Are Facing You When You Come Through The Door and The Deer Head and none of these did she fuck with.

She took the Purple Powder and because she had a Dwarf and a Sorceress with her, knew that it could Drive You Mad Or Turn You Into A God and put it in her pack. She saw the Dead Guy's Stuff and took it.

She used a spell to decrypt the writing on the walls, then took this note--"Runic writing says bad things".

Then she went down into the Trap Door.

She fucked not with the Screaming Faces On The Wall, went through the Demon Head Carved Door and into the Room With The Skeleton Hands. She did not fuck with the hands.

I told her "You see a sigil on the door, it looks like This" (and showed her a picture).

I said "It fills you with unease and nausea" she said "I knew you'd say that."

The CD ended and I put on Cradle of Filth, which was perfect for a second because at the beginning of the album there's creepy choral music and just as the voices began to spiral up, she entered...

The Demonic Chapel--
wherein Mandy fucked not with the Pews, nor the Organ of Bone, nor the Skulls on Hooks, nor the basins with teeth (except reaching into one to pull out the treasure and taking some unholy water), nor the Jewelled Dagger and Necklace, ("I'm not a thief, so I left them--I figured the altar was carved like a skull mouth so it might clamp shut or something"), nor the Demonic Murals, Nor The Door That Leads East.

I got sick of Cradle of Filth and put on Sleep.

Mandy then investigated The Crypts of the Priests, Warriors, and Commoners respectively and got all the gold out of the crypts. She did not go down the spiral staircases.

She investigated The Embalming Room and took the Book that was there, but did not read it.

She went into the room with the eyepiece and the books on pedestals, she took the eyepiece and put it in a sack.

She went into The Bloodstained Prayer Room and did not translate any of the writing.

She went right past the Room With The Black Fountains.

Then she got to The Plant Monster.

Now, you'll notice absolutely nothing has happened so far. If you know the module, you'll also know that killing the plant monster--for complex reasons--causes the dead to rise from their graves. And there's no way the players can know this.

So here, as the referee, I am getting excited, finally, somethings going to happen: Mandy can't get the book she's been sent here to get without getting past this plant.
She can see it there on the other side of this plant.

Also over there is a Gold Altar, an Inscription, A Pit, And Two Gold Cups.

So, she starts killing this plant. Acid, axe, axe, axe. Now it's dead. It almost kills her dwarf but she heals the dwarf. So she's past the plant.

Unbeknownst to her, the dead begin to rise from their graves.

I tell Mandy "There's a book--it matches the description of the book you've been sent to get, along with two cups, and..."

"We grab the book and the cups and run back the way we came."

"So you're just..."


So then the players run, full speed, out of the dungeon, they run into some of the living dead, who scrape up the sorceress and kill the dwarf, but the party just keeps running, past the skeletons underground, past the ghouls above ground, and down the mountain.

And that's that and the adventure is over and now an army of undead walks the earth. "That's not my problem," says Mandy.

"Mandy," I say "everybody who runs this module has everybody die or goes insane or at least they find it really creepy, but you just ran in, got the stuff and left, scott free. How the hell did you do that?"

(Mandy is not a terribly experienced RPGer, this is her seventh night out.)

"I've played video games, I've played Zelda and Diablo--I know when you go around in a crypt the dead are going to come back. I know you just run in and get the stuff and leave. I mean, they sent me to get the book, I got it. It sucks that the dwarf had the purple powder--but I can go back for that later."

"So, um, did you like the adventure?"

"It was fun, I mean, it wasn't as creepy as Wolves In The Throne Room, but y'know, it was good despite being a bit predictable."

That's Mandy's review.

My personal dungeon master review--

It says right in the introduction:

"Careful and methodical adventurers will be able to find a great deal of treasure with absolutely no personal risk, but a number of adventurers may feel that this is not an
exciting adventuring location...if they are clever enough to never meet any opposition, they will likely be unsatisfied with the adventure as a whole without realizing how lucky they were."

Now, Mandy got the best of both worlds--it was easy and she got a lot of treasure, plus she did think it was fun. I, on the other hand, had a good enough time but just kept thinking what it would've been like if the group had included some of my other, less clearheaded, players.

I may have fucked this module up by running it right after an adventure that was already culty and creepy and full of demon terror (and using up all my best doom metal in the background). When I read Death Frost Doom, I thought the whole nothing-happens-in-the-whole-first-half-of-the-adventure-but-it's-all-creepy-and-that-builds-tension-thing was excellent, and a nice play on player expectations, but Mandy seemed to take it all in stride. Maybe it's just really hard to make a one-on-one adventure scary. Maybe you can't get the proper claustrophobia when you don't have several personalities all bickering about which door to take. Maybe none of that matters because Mandy had fun anyway. Maybe I'm just being the crazy dungeon master who imagines all the lunacy that could have been rather than the cut-and-dry cut-and-run scenario that Mandy pulled off. Maybe the most promising thing is that Mandy wants to go back later to get that purple powder.

(Also here is a link to the guy who created "Death Frost Doom"'s site


Felipe Budinich said...

You know, I think the "problem", was that you ran the adventure solo, so the adventuring group acted like a hive mind.

It could have been way more unpredictable with more players getting tempted to do stuff, even if in the end they didn't set off any traps/encounters, discussion would have ensured that the tension was higher.

Or at least that was my experience

Unknown said...

Felipe, I think you're 100% right.

But Mandy had fun, and now there's skeletons walking all over my campaign world, so it's all good.

Felipe Budinich said...

Heh never said that it was wrong. Having undead rising all over is never a bad thing, as it allows you to use all our collective wisdom gathered over the years:

Alex Osias said...

Backreading your posts on your game sessions. I gotta say though - Mandy handles her missions like a pro. She's got an old gamer's soul.

This took me back to some old gaming memories.

Humanrorschachtest said...

Sister Superior could send her back to stop the undead!

Plus- return of the hick!