Monday, 11 May 2015

Review: "An (un)Deathly storm" and "Infestation", two one-page adventures from Sacrosanct Games

An (un)Deathly storm and Infestation are both Pay What You Want modules published by Sacrosanct Games.  Sacrosanct, led by Rob Waibel, have been around for a good long time, established in 2002 and claiming that they've been kicking around game design for almost thirty years. The two modules are the first installations of a series of largely system-agnostic one-page fantasy adventures, and have been pitched at low-level characters.

That means I need to make a bit of a disclaimer before going on with the review.  I'm not here to determine the validity of the One Page Dungeon Contest.  (Though for what it's worth, I think the contest encourages scenario designers to test the limits of their creativity and brevity, qualities very useful in designing a scenario of any length.)  My purpose in reviewing is to consider how useful the product is to a DM for running a game.  To put that another way, I'm concerned that I'm doing the gaming equivalent of talking about how good wearable art is for hiking.

With that out the way, I'll get on to reviewing the modules.  Their production values are pretty good, especially for what amounts to a give-away from a small company. An (un)Deathly storm features two small maps - one of a tavern and the other showing an underground complex.  The former is colourful and attractive without being difficult to follow.  The dungeon map is less pretty but still gets the job done.  Infestation has just the one larger map, an isometric monochrome number.  It's a slightly unusual presentation but it does make efficient use of the space.

The scenario in An (un)Deathly storm is a two-parter.  Essentially Sacrosanct have created a "hook" encounter at the tavern before proceeding to the main action in the dungeon.  The hook is cinematic and reasonably engaging, though I felt that just a few more details (like the name of the principal NPC) could have been squeezed in.  It also strikes me that the fun to be had at the tavern very much depends on the rules - in OSR, the smart play is probably to run away!  However, for those prepared to stick the fight out, there's a small amount of cash offered for bearding the enemy in their lair.  The lack of any substantial reward to justify the risk in the dungeon makes this a hard scenario to take seriously, though obviously it is a better bet under rules in which the party is hoping to get most of their experience from combat.  Switching my mindset to 3.5 and Pathfinder, I don't think the PCs should obviously turn up their noses at what's on offer.  Someone with more familiarity with 4th and 5th might shed more light on how well this scenario suits those rules.

Aside from my concerns about the plausibility of the players going along with An (un)Deathly storm, it's not a very interesting scenario.  There are some nasty scenes which could be brought to life by a talented DM, but little in the way of exploration or puzzle-solving challenges.  My rating is 2/5 for OSR, but 3/5 otherwise.  (The one-point gap here reflects the need for extra work on the part of a DM using old school rules, not different expectations.)

For Infestation, Sacrosanct only give some suggested "hooks" and again the system-agnostic approach doesn't really work for me.  One of the suggestions is that the party will enter the dungeon due to a treasure map - but there's no treasure of any significance there!  Unlike An (un)Deathly storm, this scenario isn't so risky and perhaps OSR characters could make a go of it, although I would expect disappointment at the rewards.  Under D20 rules, I think PCs investigating the site of the  Infestation are making a reasonable choice.

If the module's site is fairly straightforward, it at least has a DM special to confound the players and an unusual room to provoke reactions.  Again, there are no mapping or reasoning problems to solve, which is disappointing.  My rating is 3/5.  Infestation is usable if unspectacular.  Hopefully Sacrosanct will hit their stride as the series goes on.

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