Tuesday, June 28, 2016

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

“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. 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, a bright flash of white light and a roaring peal of thunder were preceded by an explosion 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 begins the plot of the Demon Stones!

This morning I saw I saw a brand new copy of  The Demon Stones in my mail box from Monkey Blood Design! Happy day! This was an awesome piece to come in the mail today as the morning has been one of those rush around and put up with things not working out & how we've all had one of those! This copy is from One bookshelf and well worth your time as we shall see.

 The packing job wasn't too bad but since my Adventurer, Conqueror, King Rpg hardback fiasco I've been very wary of copies of stuff but that being said I haven't had any problems with the US postal service. In fact the post office has been pretty damn reliable since I do a ton of business with LuLu & One Book Shelf for that matter. The binding was the first thing I noticed and I can say this isn't a bad little book at all.
 The front illustration is as good on the pdf but much better in real life, just soak that in for a moment. The thing just screams U.K. Hammer style horror waiting to be unleashed onto your players. The Demon Stones adventure has a lot going for it, the grim grittiness are there, the unexpected twists and plays on popular  fantasy elements, and an understanding of the U.K. Hammer style aesthetic  are there without being overtly pretentious that we see in many other rpg products today.. All of this comes together with a bang and holds the interest of the DM and the players. The adventure takes place in an area called the Hoarwych Valley, which can fit into any campaign. The Demons Stones has been created precisely for 3-5 characters of level ranges 4 to 5 & there are several encounters which can be lethal to an inexperienced party of adventurers.
 The introduction is smooth and well written and that two column lay out is smooth. Just a seriously quality job of layout here and the font is easy on these old eyes.Plus all of the important text is highlighted & there are quotes by NPC's scattered throughout the product giving even more of that quasi historical feel to the Demon Stones.
 In the  Demon Stones a dungeon master  gets  an overcoming wave of HP Lovecraft's the Colour Out Of Space mixed in with the grit and grim of a typical White Dwarf adventure circa 1980, you know the good ones that could be played over and over again.Seriously that vibe really echoes throughout this adventure and being a Swords & Wizardry statted adventure really brings that home. There's something about the way its laid out that you can easily see sticking this adventure in some minor backwater of Gray Hawk or Blackmoor and it working as an entire mini campaign adventure. In fact after reading this book again this morning I can honestly see the Demon Stones working as a compete introduction into the Dark Albion setting with some very minor tweaks.
All of the material in the Demon Stones dovetails into itself and works to move the story along in ways that most adventures sort of lag around. You've got to understand that while there is conflict this is more of an investigative and thought provoking adventure in the old school sense. Your going to have to interact and deal with some very extensive and weird circumstances as well as the situations that your PC's find themselves in.
Gotta love those Monkey Blood designed maps and extensive illustrations throughout the book, if you liked those OSR today maps then Demon Stones is going to be a treat for you.All of the maps are clearly executed and work well bringing the various scenes of the adventure to life. The reference points are concise and the encounters clearly marked.

What you get with the region of the small village of Gravencross is a very lovingly detailed campaign region that fits both an old school vibe of the old U.K. versions of White Dwarf with Monkey Blood Design's spin on one of their favorite areas to write about the details are very nice, the NPC's extremely strong and very attached into the investigative action of the adventure. Everything in the Demon Stones hooks back around into its own plot and wraps up nicely all of the while adding in new magic items, monsters, and weirdness with an authentic U.K. Hammerish horror flavor.

There are several reasons where the Demon Stones shines through:
  • As a drag and drop side campaign where weird cosmic horror is needed but you really don't want to wreck your own campaign. This investigative horror adventure allows that but gives a far more controlled PC burn without the complete wreckage by providing a whole cloth adventure that can be set anywhere. 
  • There is a far more on the ground personal level to the Demon Stones that places PC's squarely in the action of the events of the adventure and it has that Eighties lethalness  that reminds me of the TSR U.K. era adventures had. 
  • On the whole there is a lot of bang for your buck & this product bridge's the gap between Sword and Sorcery & crawling cosmic horror with a good deal of lethal weirdness in between.
We are given a complete rundown of the NPC's of the area and tools for generating more all at the flip of the page, it also makes things very nice for in flow game reference, & keeps the events of  the small village of Gravencross to life. We also get a real feel for the region of the Hoarwych Valley. 

There is a rich scattering of lots of adventure hooks, rumors, and campaign leaders that make this world come to the fore. This also means that we get lots and lots of opportunities to hook in our own campaigns into the events within the  Gravencross region and the  environs of the Hoarwych Valley.

Once the events of the Demon Stones are over  small village of Gravencross and its surroundings. is a resource far too useful to just let sink back into the background of a back water region of a campaign. Not unlike The Keep On The Borderlands. This area is a location with lots of potential for use as a base of operations, lots of further activity, and as a spring board for an incredible variety of campaign adventure opportunities. The Hoarwych Valley, as a whole is wracked with lots of weirdness just bubbling under the surface. 

I can see using this adventure tied in directly with a solid weird investigative horror game of Lamentations of the Flame Princess and tied into the events of the England Upturn'd but it would take a bit of work on the DM's part.

This is a module that is going to take months and months of actual play. There are actually several retroclone or OD&D systems I can honestly see using The Demon Stones. So here's my ten systems that the Demon Stones work with:
  1. Swords & Wizardry - The Demon Stones does exactly what it says on the tin and delivers a two fold punch in the gut horror adventure that is actually very well done. 
  2. Lamentations of the Flame Princess because of the very nature of this adventure this works as a well oiled adventure and mini campaign for LoFP. The lethality of the Demon Stones shouldn't be that much of a problem for that crowd of players. 
  3. This area could be used as a horror backwater location for Dark Albion and still keep its weird location details solidly within the Demon Stones events with little to no modification. 
  4. This could be used as a brand new whole cloth environment for a Mutant Future/Labyrinth Lord crossover adventure with lots of work but it would work especially if the DM uses Realms of Crawling Chaos.
  5. A complete mini campaign for OD&D with no changes and a banging concept for a back water horror story. This could be used with OD&D Cyclopedia style play with no issues what so ever. It would give that game a more mature twist. 
  6. This is precisely the types of adventures that Adventurer, Conqueror, King thrives on. Weird horror with a twist in a backwater region with lots of potential as a domain for PC's to start out with if they A. complete the mission & B. live to tell the tale. The locations scattered throughout the Demon Stones are weird and very dangerous. 
  7. This could work as a boiling dangerous Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea with lots of dragging and dropping by the DM. The weirdness of the adventure will draw in PC's and the events surrounding the Demon Stones are sort of the Robert Howard horror that the game has brewing in the background. 
  8. This could work as a mid or low level Advanced Dungeons and Dragons or OSRIC adventure where the players want something completely different. Elements of this adventure could be adapted into a Ravenloft or similar gaming system. 
  9. On note I could see using the Demon Stones with Jack Shear's Tales of  The Grotesque and Dungeonsque world setting with no issues at all. In fact the events of the Demon Stones fit some of the themes explored in that system quite nicely thank you very much. 
  10. Let the Demon Stones stand on its own and hook into with a wide variety of PC's and let the events take on their own growth. It works to let this book's events breath and live in their own twisted horror filled reality.

 Do I think that The Demon Stones By MonkeyBlood Design For Swords & Wizardry  is worth the money and your time? Yes, I do and I also look forward to the next chapter in
the Hoarwych Valley. 

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