Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review: Atarin's Delve

Product's Name: Atarin's Delve
Ruleset: Labyrinth Lord
Author: Peter C. Spahn
Size: 15 pages
Publisher: Small Niche Games
Price: $1.49
Rating: 4/5

Here I'll start a new feature of my blog - RPG and wargame product reviews. And I'll start with several products kindly set to me by Peter C. Spahn of Small Niche Games a year or so ago, that I am ashamed to say that I've only gotten around to properly read and review them now due to various forms of real-life work commitment.

Anyhow, on to the review.

Atarin's Delve is a short, one-level dungeon adventure for Labyrinth Lord (and, indeed, any old-school fantasy RPG, and pretty easy to convert to D&D 5E as well). It is intended for 4-6 characters of levels 1-3 - a beginner's adventure. The players are sent by an adventurer's guild to protect an archaeological excavation which has just begun in some strange lakeside caves, where very interesting jewelry has been found. Soon enough, the players will find themselves entangled with a dark cult, as well as the sacred caves' initial residents, who have hibernated there for centuries in rock form.

The story goes like this: a race of fish-like humanoids, the Cathla, once held these caves sacred and lived in and around them; when humans first entered the area, they clashed with the Cathla, who drove them off with water magic after some fierce fighting. However, the humans returned with a mage, who transmuted the water in the Cathla sleeping chamber into stone during their hibernation cycle, placing them in a dormant, petrified state. Many years later, a human noble built his castle above these caves, and breached the caves in excavations for his cellar; soon, he became obsessed with the Cathla civilization and their water-goddess, and founded a cult worshiping her (in human form, of course). Long after his death, the cult lingered on, but a new initiate stole Cathla jewelry from the caves and brought it back to civilization, attracting an archaeologist to come and investigate the caves. The archaeologist entered the cave, and, while excavating, re-awakened the dormant Cathla, who then proceeded to slaughter his apprentices and trap him in the cave. The cultists themselves are on the move to the cave, and the Cathla have killed some of them as well... So the arriving PCs will find themselves dealing with this disaster zone when they arrive at the caves.

The adventure itself takes place in a single-level dungeon with 15 keyed locations. There are two entry points, and the dungeon combined original or natural Cathla caverns with later human construction by the cult, so themes and visuals will vary. All areas have interesting descriptions, though many lack monsters or treasure (a good thing to a degree - not everything in a dungeon should be a 'proper' Encounter - but large parts of the dungeon are "color" or "atmosphere" rooms). The dungeon is not very linear and there several routes through it, allowing for interesting exploration. Not all encounters are combat encounters - in fact, the cultists will not attack the characters, and will try to hire them to lead them to safety, and may provide information if properly prodded for it. The monsters themselves are all very appropriate thematically - of the fish/crayfish/lizard/Cathla variety and some undead in a tomb. The Cathla themselves have a very cool special ability and have full Labyrinth Lord stats at the back of the booklet.

There are very few treasure items in the dungeon, so the typical party will end up being paid by the cultists and/or the archaeologists to be led back to safety, and the payment is very nice for 1st-level characters - 500gp. BUT there is a hidden treasure - a big silver statute worth 1,500gp! It is hidden behind a secret door, so careless characters might miss it, though it appears that the secret door is of the ordinary type (i.e. no special mechanism given in the rules).

All in all, this is a very good little dungeon delve - very "tight" thematically speaking with no "funhouse" elements, non-linear and with various special tricks, as well as with role-playing encounters next to the combat ones. The main downside is that there are very few treasures to find (so careful exploration is not necessarily rewarded, except in one place, where it is rewarded big-time), and that some rooms lack things to interact with. But generally speaking, this is a beautiful little dungeon adventure with a slight Lovecraftian bent to it. Highly recommended!

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