Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review & Commentary On The Demon Stones By MonkeyBlood Design For Swords & Wizardry And Your Old School Campaigns

So yesterday I was away from the screen most of the day out on a repair call and grabbing a used lawn mower. Ours has died and putting up with traffic and such the family  managed to get a used mower and I found a nice surprise in my email 'in box' from Monkey Blood Design.
I've seen the Demon Stones adventure for Pathfinder a while back when I was tracking down information about Glynn Seal and his work with Venger Satanis. Monkey Blood Design is one of those outfits that does cartography, artwork, and graphic design that clicks with me. While it was an adventure that was designed for Pathfinder to me and some friends it didn't work on that level apparently the author saw that there was room for OSR expansion.
"When I wrote The Demon Stones, I had envisaged it being compatible with the
latest edition of the world's most popular role-playing game, currently now in its 5th
Edition. At the time, a system reference document did not exist, which meant that a
decision was made to switch to the Pathfinder system (© Paizo Publishing) which was
a safer bet. A dreamier foreword lies in that version.
The Pathfinder version was released, but I still wanted to create an old-school
version with less rules-crunch. It could easily be adapted to other OSR systems on
the fly. It would also be a homage to my gaming roots. For that, I chose Swords
& Wizardry, primarily for its popularity amongst the OSR communities. Luckily,
Edwin Nagy stepped up to the plate to provide his wealth of expertise and
knowledge, and was already a fan of The Demon Stones story. It has taken a little
longer than I hoped to release it, with commissioned works taking priority, but you
now hold it in your hands or on your screen. I hope you have as much fun playing
it as I did creating it.
Until our paths meet again,
Glynn Seal (MonkeyBlood Design) - May 2016"

Right off the top of my head this is a nasty and dangerous adventure much in the vein of the UK TSR material. The author has a damn good feel for the material and his U.K. origins because the entire module is rife with the feeling of corruption and old school low level weirdness. I hate to say this but this adventure could be used as a lower tier Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure given its Swords and Wizardry pedigree. This is an investigative, twisting, and somewhat more then a passing dangerous adventure.
Here's the author's introduction;"THE SUN HAD set an hour ago, and the rain lashed down
and the wind howled on the dark moor. A storm this late in the season was unusual, but this one seemed different somehow. The clouds were more menacing, tinged with anger, the rain
colder and more biting than usual.
Skerrill had to find the lost calf and get him back to the farm before his father came back from the city on business. He’d been looking for two hours now, and he was right in the middle of the moor when the
storm hit. He knew he should have turned back as soon as darkness fell, but then he was never the brightest boy in the valley. If only he had remembered to lock the farm gate.
The calf was now likely dead anyway having stumbled among the boulders and rocks, panicking in the dark, and then fallen in a floodwater stream and drowned. Either way, he was in more trouble
than he could imagine.
Suddenly, an explosion bellowed, followed by a bright flash of white light and a roaring peal of thunder as a huge object fell from the sky and impacted the ground of the moor no more than a stone’s throw
from him. Dirt, mud, water, and debris erupted from the impact site, flying high into the air and then covering the moor for hundreds of feet all around. Skerrill was knocked to the ground instantly and covered in the fallout from the blast. His ears rang and his head spun, but he staggered to
his feet in a daze. He stumbled to where the blast had happened only moments before,
and in a depression in the ground lay a huge stone glowing orange as if hot. Skerrill passed out. Two more thunderous explosions crashed in the distance."

So you get two shades to the wind of HP Lovecraft's 'The Colour Out Of Space' in the D&D English countryside with healthy does  of Robert Howard's grit and gritty action for your PC's to get throw into the deep end of things. Bits and pieces of this adventure remind me of the better early White Dwarf magazine's D&D adventures and frankly adventure seems a far better fit for Swords and Wizardry style OSR games rather then Pathfinder. The reasons for this are simple, the horror filled nature of the background of the adventure, the fact that the adventure is open enough for the DM to customize it to their own home games, and the fact that with a bit of work this adventure could be expanded into a fully thought out campaign region in its own right.

There are both tradition old school style ways of getting the party deeply involved in the machinations of the Demon Stones adventure or by getting them into the weird action with several of the adventure hooks scattered throughout;"The adventuring party hear of the strange 'Demon Stones' from both
tavern rumours and Rhuin Graystone - on one hand, cursed meteorites that fell from the sky during a storm, causing a strange disease ravaging the Hoarwych Valley, blighting crops and killing farmers.
On the other hand divine stones that should be protected on the say so of an old and possibly crazy dwarf. The dwarf will give one of the adventurers a holy symbol of Basaltor, which he says his god has
instructed him to do. This necklace allows the bearer to receive further vague visions sent by Basaltor, although that is not known by Rhuin."

The Demon Stones has action packed bits but its more of an investigative and atmospheric adventure with heavy horror overtones. There's lots of well thought out and fully fleshed NPC's sprinkled throughout the adventure. Here the horror is on a more one to one personal level with lots of weirdness happening both around the adventure locations and within the adventure itself. The maps and cartography are very nicely done and echo the old school UK flavor of the Demon Stones.

There are some draw backs to The Demon Stones By MonkeyBlood Design in point of fact when it comes to using it with some groups of players:

  • If your looking for action, action, action, over investigative horror in the older Hammer tradition with more then a hint of the weird pulpy English pagan aspect then this module isn't for you. 
  • There are lots of strong and well drawn out NPC's in the Demon Stones, a DM has to be well versed in handling these types of characters. 
  • The Demon Stones By MonkeyBlood Design has both a cosmic mythological background and a much gritter on the ground rural feel to it that reminds me of the TSR U.K. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons modules. This isn't going to be to to everyone's taste. 
So where could this adventure be used and with what retroclones? Well from reading it over I can see several types of retroclones currently on the market that might handle it very well :
  1. The Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea would actually be a very nice fit with the Demon Stones. There are several reasons for this one its a much more investigative adventure which makes a nice change up from some of the offerings of that system. Two it involves lots of Lovecraftian weirdness and it has a Celtic flavor to it which means that there are several areas in Hyperborea which support this style of adventure. 
  2. Dark Albion is another option that could easily fit the themes and means of the Demon Stones; the PC's are visiting some out of the way farming providence and weirdness happens or they're called in because of the events of the adventure. 
  3. Believe it or not the Demon Stones could easily be used in a Mutant Future/Labyrinth Lord mash up game given some of the weirdness scattered throughout the module. 
  4. The Demon Stones might also be used with the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rpg system as a traditional game with a weird horror undercurrent and many of the elements of the adventure could be expanded upon for a full blown campaign setting in perhaps Germany or any of the bread basket countries of  Europe. 
  5. This adventure could be incorporated into Greyhawk as a part of one of the weird goings on during several of the periods of Greyhawk's early history with some minor modification. The atmosphere is dark and Gothic enough to work on several levels in that sort of a campaign.. 
  6. The Demon Stones could with a lot of modification work as a White Star adventure on some far away back water planet for a low tier party of adventurers. This would take considerable effort on the part of the DM but it would work well and could be used to expand elements in the Demon Stones into a fully realized campaign. 
  7. Mythological & Lovecraftian elements of the Demon Stones could easily be modified to provide an entire frame work for a Dark Ages Cthulhu game adventure with lots and lots of conversion work but that might just be the masochistic dungeon master in me thinking. 
  8. Given timing, a bit of effort, and lots of expansion on the part of the DM the Demon Stones would make an excellent Halloween or horror adventure in the tradition of  The Wicker Man which I think might be one of the sources for this adventure. 
  9. Hammer horror elements scattered throughout the adventure echo the English sensibilities of timing, pacing, and old school ethos which presses of the right buttons in my humble opinion. 
  10. There's lots of utility to The Demon Stones and I really enjoyed the chance to check this adventure out and play around with the thought experiment in running it for my players. I have several ideas to turn this one loose in the near future. 
In closing I think that this is a hell of a good translation for Swords and Wizardry; The Demon Stones By MonkeyBlood Design will be hitting the wilds of Drivethrurpg and Rpgnow soon but I did get an advanced look into the twisted weirdness of it. All in all  think that this is a fine addition to the OSR market and hope that other folks will enjoy running it as much as I enjoyed taking a look at it. Five out of five in my book.

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