Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Folio 1: Beneath Roslof Keep Review

As a 1st edition fan, it seems pretty rare when a module comes out for it (or OSRIC), as opposed to B/X (Labyrinth Lord) or 0e (Swords & Wizardry). So I take notice when one does, in this case, The Folio 1: Beneath Roslof Keep from Art of the Genre. I had actually covered this back when it was on Kickstarter (where it was funded, albeit barely) but hadn't realized it was due out so soon. It's meant to be the first in a series of six modules, with the second on Kickstarter right now (just about funded).

At any rate, it's something of a mega-dungeon, with this module covering one level, the first (and presumably each later module covering additional levels). It's set below Roslof Keep, named after old TSR art Jim Roslof, who was quite a good artist (especially his color stuff, IMHO), but never got the adoration that other artists like Erol Otus or Dave Trampier got, or even Jeff Dee.

Sounds good, right? Well, alas, it's a bit weird. Firstly, Roslof Keep isn't really described (a smithy, inn, "trade house", and provision store get a paragraph each), with the exception of the political factions of the place. It seems that dungeon delving is almost like a team sport. There are several different houses that support dungeoneering teams, and they all compete with each other, sometimes violently.

How does this work? Well, it seems you need a special banner to get the dungeon door to open in the first place, and there are only so many of these banners (and they can only be removed by the party that put them in, unless they are all dead). And so the campaign set-up is like an '80s — the PCs join the worst house (as it's the only one accepting people) and it's up to them as underdogs to show up the other more successful fraternities. Er, houses.

This is described as being a "sandbox", but the PCs seem to really have no choice in the matter. They either go in the dungeon, or well, they go into the dungeon. What's more, the dungeon must be cleared room by room before they can access the next level. Which I guess is convienant since that's not written yet, but still, rather limiting. What's more, in the introduction, the author suggests the first level will provide fodder for 6 months of gameplay (with one session per week).

That could be possible, if that first level of the dungeon were really large, but alas, it's 23 rooms, including the entrance and two exits. The contents of the dungeon are fairly pedestrian. Kobolds. Orcs. Gelatinous cubes. Giant rats, etc. At least the orcs are a bit different, being "delving orcs", which are slightly improved over the standard model, and the kobolds take a page from 3rd edition by having one of them being a "sorcerer", able to cast magic inherently.

On the plus side, while compact, the dungeon is non-linear, essentially being 4 corridors running in a rectangle with a bunch of rooms attached. All in all, it's not a bad dungeon design, but it's not overly remarkable, either. Nothing that made me say, "Wow, that's cool" or "Wow, that's clver."

It's really hard to see how it would take more than a few sessions to clear it, much less the 24 sessions the author suggests (that would be less than one room a session). The central concept of the dungeon is that there is an "infernal machine" which periodically restocks the dungeon. Yet, there are no restocking tables. The DM can of course create his own, but on the flip side, that's sort of why you buy a module, so you don't have to do all the prep work.

The background makes it hard to read despite the large text
The product is essentially divided up into two separate books, all in one PDF. The first is the gazetteer, describing the set-up and having the monster stats, with the dungeon itself being in the second book. There are immense amounts of art, all seemingly original,  some by some well known artists, including a piece by Jim Roslof himself and a couple by TSR artist Jim Holloway (always one of my favorites, though here his subject matter is simply two noble women, which seems a bit of a waste. I loved his illustrations of the party in Castle Amber as they encountered the various rooms). They used a very large size for text, along with a lot of white space, so the net result feels like a large print book meant.

In the introduction, the author mentions such classics like Isle of the Dread, Village of Homlett, and Keep on the Borderlands, and wanting to write a module in a similar vein. Unfortunately, he sort of missed the point of those modules, which allowed a lot of freedom, or in the case of Homlett, had a really well described village as a home base. This doesn't offer much freedom, and Rosloff Keep is largely left up to the DM to flesh out. There's a good adventure in here, I think, but it will take a fair amount of work and an experienced DM to bring out.

It's worth a look, but I'd probably suggest waiting for a sale unless you are absolutely desperate for a new 1e dungeon.

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