Thursday, October 4, 2012

Review: The God That Crawls

Imagine an Indiana Jones movie set in the 17th century, and with Indiana Jones as a total murderhobo rather than a misguided murderhobo for science.

That's basically The God That Crawls.

The book says it all:
A murdering cult.
A religious order dedicated to protecting sacred history.
An ancient catacomb full of danger and reward.
The God that Crawls
This features several things that are Raggi's trademark, including an historical setting (the book assumes 17th century Britain and includes various references to the Catholic church) and a moral component (most of Raggi's modules assume that the adventurers are greedy bastards who will "dig too deep" and receive their comeuppance in the form of a cursed treasure or terrible monster).  Adventurers aren't precisely punished for being greedy, but at the same time, they totally are (although, as per usual, adventurers are also rewarded for being clever).

Most dungeons assume no time limit, other than more time in the dungeon creates more risk (in the form of random encounters).  This dungeon, on the other hand, mostly lacks random encounters — save one, in the form of the titular God.  While this can be handled as a random encounter, the Referee may also treat it as another participant in the adventure, keeping track of its movement and so forth to make the result less arbitrary.  The Referee also has the option of treating the thing as a random encounter for easier bookkeeping.

Mostly, though, the God ensures that smart parties try to balance getting rich with not making noise, which is always a tough consideration.

As for the dungeon itself, it is a series of catacombs underneath an otherwise unremarkable church.  Adventuring-types in the village or church might hear rumors about the catacombs and go investigating.

All-in-all, The God That Crawls is an excellent site-based adventure and a decent horror module.  There is a lot of risk, but a lot of reward — it's totally worth it to enter this dungeon, although odds are that the cost will be quite high (like The Grinding Gear or Death Frost Doom).  Additionally, the dungeon requires a little planning; like The Grinding Gear, it pays to be prepared when tackling this dungeon, as resource management is quite important.

In terms of graphic design, layout and artwork is delightful, as always.

I do have a couple of notes about the module.  The magical axle really bumps against the horror-versus-whimsy line that Raggi likes to flaunt.  I rather appreciate the strange device, but I understand why some (which is to say, many) would consider it a bit silly.

More importantly, I received this through the Indiegogo campaign and the initially-promised early modern supplement was not ready.  This is hardly an issue — Mr. Raggi has indicated it will be released as its own supplement, and sent to Indiegogo backers — but it's still a fact of life.

Overall, I'm pleased with it.  It's an easy locale to drop in your own hexcrawl (although if you're using a fantasy setting, there needs to be a little conversion from early modern Britain), and provides a challenging adventure site.  As with most Raggi modules, it's meant for low-level characters.

Game Masters with a fondness for kitbashing may also want to translate the system to the horror system of their choice — the church could easily appear in World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu.

Most Raggi modules have some sort of secret hook that shouldn't be spoiled.  I try to avoid doing this, but the secret is part of the module's design, so if you plan on playing it, you should probably leave now.

...okay.  The deal is this: this church conceals several holy secrets.  One is St. Augustine of Canterbury, whose mutant corpus forms the shoggoth-like God That Crawls.  Cursed by ancient pagan magics, he hunts down here eternally.  The other secret is that this place has been used as a dumping ground for old holy relics and strange pagan artifacts, as well as heaps of coin.  There's a lot of wealth down in the dungeon, but the God attempts to devour anyone who arrives in the catacombs.

As for the church, they're in on it, but they're running a grand deception.  The community pretends to be a decent, God-fearing lot, which is just a front for the cult that worships the God That Crawls, which is just a front for the decent, God-fearing lot which realizes it must protect the secret of the God That Crawls on behalf of the Catholic church.  They will subtly suggest that interlopers investigate the dungeon, but they will not force them to do so unless they have uncovered uncomfortable secrets.  However, they will maroon anyone who descends into the dungeon, presuming that the God That Crawls will devour them and preserve the secret.

They will experience great remorse for doing so, however.

As with many Raggi modules, this is a lot of information which may never be learned, but it adds to the atmosphere of the scenario and helps keep the Referee focused.

As noted above, the crux of this adventure involves trying to grab treasure and escape before attracting the attention of the God That Crawls, as adventurers are unlikely to be able to face the thing directly.  Moving quietly is pretty important if one wishes to survive, and breaking into treasure caches is hardly quiet.

If you want a thrilling chase through darkened dungeons, or a good horror-themed dungeon crawl, this is probably one to buy.

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