Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review Of The OSR Module - Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #3: The Villains of the Undercity By Mark Taormino For your Old School Campaigns

So Mark Taormino  of Maximum Mayhem Dungeon's fame sends me a copy of his adventure Villains of the Undercity. Now I've been quietly off of social media for most of today but I've been waiting to check out the pdf of this adventure for months. Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #3: Villains of the Undercity is one of those adventures that revels in its gonzoness and doesn't want or ask for an apology for its old school veneer. This is a gonzo adventure with a difference straight out of the gate, this is an adventure keyed for PC levels one  through three with an eye toward Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st edition or OSRIC.

The plot is straight out of too many late night Mountain Dew runs, cheap beer, ten hour D&D sessions;Danger lurks at every corner of the small coastal city of Los Farport. The locals insist people are being abducted in the night and taken into into the bowels of the rumored “Undercity Dungeon” below. A lone survivor managed to escape and give some information before dying in your arms: “Secret door... Tavern of the Wiley Wench... Ugh!” You and your brave team of adventurers have decided to investigate these rumors, plunder the dungeon and destroy the dreaded “Villains of the Undercity!” ...right after you loot his still warm body, of course."
The adventure has recommended levels & after reading through this one last night DM's and players might want to heed the recommendations for ;"This module is designed for 6-8 characters of levels 1 to 3. The party should consist of at least 3 Fighters, 1 Cleric, 1 Magic User, and 1 Thief." While this might seem basic there's a surprising amount of complexity to this adventure. I should also mention that Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #3: The Villains of the Undercity is a complete adventure having everything you need to run this right out of the gate including pre generated PC's which I can truly appreciate. I have players who are sometimes late to the table and this pick up and go aspect is one of the things that appeals to me as a DM.

"From left to right, Snoot the Bugbear, Grimley the Warrior, Kreshnar the Mage, Lethos the Lizard Man (with his blade El Duche) and Sunghew the Evil Elvish Warrior, a.k.a The Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #3: Villains of the Undercity" This adventure uses many of the tried and true old school adventure elements to move the action along and the adventure moves at bit of a break neck pace with lots of room descriptions, solidly done cartography and lots of old school gonzo adventure encounters. The setting of Los Farport is a loving homage and send up of  a classic TSR era setting;"The adventure in this module is located in the small
fishing and coastal farming town of Los Farport which is heavily populated with humans, elves, demi-humans, and humanoids. The climate is generally comprised of warm summers and cool winters with the major trade items out of this port town are wine made from the finest grapes and high bounties of delicious fish and crabs for export. The town is a stop for travelers looking for work or passage across the Western Sea.

Los Farport has always had a notorious salty history but recently more and more folks have been mysteriously disappearing. Fear and suspicion rule the land as more bands of Bugbears and Lizard Men have been settling on the outlying borders of the nearby territories. Right now they are rumored to be working together in a nefarious slave trade operation run by a shadowy
figure known only as the Sinister One. Innocent men,women and children are being captured and taken into slavery into the dreaded “Undercity Dungeon”
hidden below the ground somewhere. The Bugbears and the Lizard Men are constantly at odds in a power struggle over the operation as their bosses Snoot and Lethos (pronounced “lee-thoes”) are the right hand men in the operation and hate each other."
There are shades of the Slaver series mixed in with homages to White Plume Mountain and lots of other old school modules and adventures. Somehow it all works as a complete OSR package adventure unto itself. The encounters are balanced but very nasty & not surprisingly lethal in the old school way. The difference here is that these encounters which run as a thread throughout the adventure form a dangerous low level crawl with lots of twists and turns.

The motivator for all of the action in Villains of the Undercity is Sir Wendell Hobblefoot III, an NPC  force of some considerable villainy and his machinations. There is a lot more going on here then what simply meets the eye. The module always walks the fine line between humor and wily OSR quite nicely with some really nasty and memorable encounters. The author knows his source material and while remaining some what faithful charts his own course.

Mostly everything works with the dungeon underworld locations being the central hub that everything is on in The Villains of the Undercity. The throw back aspect is one of the central themes of the adventure but makes the whole affair come to life. Encounters run the gauntlet from simple 'face the monster and grab the treasure type' to far more puzzle oriented trap style encounters to the dangerous NPC slavers encounters and more. If you go screwing around in this adventure your going to die or even have a party wipe.

There is a ton of combat but players expecting to simply hack and slash their way through this adventure are going to have PC's die left, right, and center. The author has more then a passing flare for the dramatic and knows how to keep the pacing of the adventure interesting. But don't mistake this adventure for the more jokey one shots out there. Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #3: The Villains of the Undercity  lacks some of the more adult humor of Taormino's other adventures. Instead this has the author's sense of the dramatic unleashed and on stage.

Take for example the Broken Casket Room Encounter -
This room contains several dozen ancient caskets.
Some are broken open and some are closed. To
your horror, you can hear someone or something
making a “tapping” noise from inside one of the
closed coffins! It is a most wicked looking casket too!
Wooden and painted black with evil faces! A very
old large black metal lock connected to thick black
chains that are wrapped around and sealing the
casket shut. Probably for good reason.
This room was used during the main cemetery years. It
has been abandoned for several years and is used for
holding temporary captures. If the Players understand
Common they will hear a muffled voice yelling for
“Help!” from the casket. If they open the lock which
is trapped Save vs Poison or take 1d4 damage, the
casket will burst open and they will find Ajax McKrax -
a rugged highlander and mercenary fighter in his mid
to late twenties. Ajax doesn’t mess about and could
be described as having poor impulse control. With firey
red hair and a bloody beard to match his personality,
Ajax has a big heart and a badder attitude. He will tell
the Players he was captured in the Tavern of the Wiley
Wench after calling Snoot “one ugly motherfucker”
during a staring contest the two were having over a
bet of 15 silver pieces. Snoot had him locked in this
casket until he would die. He’d traveled to Los Farport
trying to find adventure and has found it in spades.
Ajax is a 3rd Level Human male Fighter (AL: Chaotic
Good, Strength: 17, Dexterity: 16, Constitution: 15,
Intelligence: 12, Wisdom: 11, Charisma: 14) Battle Axe
is his favorite weapon.

For me what makes this module is the balance between humor and straight up old school adventure. That line that gets tossed back and forth, this was a blast to read & for me makes me as a dungeon master really want to run this adventure. I've been watching the development on Villains of the Undercity for months now. Is it perfect? No there are a couple of areas that need tightening up in the writing. A couple of encounters where the party of adventurers might derail bit parts of the overall plot, this is more of an observation then a major thing about The Villains of the Undercity. This is also an adventure in the West Coast tradition of old school role playing. Trying to define this is going to be like nailing jelly to a wall but here it goes. California and the West Coast has had a tradition of gonzo gaming for years going all of the way back to Dave Hargrave's 'Bloody Bloody Arduin.' Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #3: The Villains of the Undercity feeds into that style of gaming. That's one of the strengths of the adventure. This is one really interesting adventure as we shall see.
I can honestly see not only using this adventure but I've got several ideas about running it. The first is running Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #3: The Villains of the Undercity  straight out of the gate using OSRIC or Advanced Dungeons and Dragons first edition and getting an entire campaign going in Los Farport going warts and all. Another option on the table is using the Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea for my retroclone of choice for this adventure and that puts a far more sword & sorcery spin on Los Farport. This isn't a bad way to go but there's more.
The second bit is taking this adventure and using it for Dungeon Crawl Classics and that would take a bit more modification. Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #3: The Villains of the Undercity monsters, NPC's, and several adventure elements would have to be modified to fit the DCC system but it would  be well worth it. In fact a far out option might be to use Crawling Under A Broken Moon to cross over the fantasy and post apocalpytic elements of a DCC campaign. You could do a Mutant Future/Labyrinth Lord Advanced bit too just as easily.
The third option that occurred to me is something that hit me part way through reading this adventure, you could easily run this adventure with Alpha Blue or even better yet Crimson Dragon Slayer by Venger Satanis. Before you leave the room hear me out, the stripped down and meaner version CDS is a perfect vehicle to run this adventure in. The setting, encounters, etc. all fit into the world of CDS and this adventure plus the system would easily compliment each other. So needless to say  I want to see far more adventures in Los Farport from the pen of  Mark Taormino.
Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #3: The Villains of the Undercity By Mark Taormino hasn't hit the shelves yet and I was given the opportunity to take a look at the adventure. Boy I'm glad I did. This is going to be a blast to run! Four out of five dice for this one!

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