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Thursday 15 September 2016

RPGPundit Reviews: The One Who Watches From Below

This is a review of the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, "The One Who Watches From Below", written by Jobe Bittman, published by Goodman Games. It is a review of the print edition, which is a staple-bound 'module' with a glossy color cover (featuring a weird entity with a giant eye for a head), and a black-and-white interior that features (as usual for Goodman products) a wide variety of really impressive gonzo-style old-school artwork. The book is about 24 pages long.

The adventure is presented as being for 6-8 adventurers of 1st level. Now, in my experience I have to say that DCC modules are always pretty malleable. You can easily adjust it to fit a variety of levels; and in any case, most DCC adventures have a pretty high rate of lethality in following with the genre.

This being an adventure, I'm going to be more succinct and cautious with what I write about here, as is my usual habit when reviewing adventure products (as opposed to rulebooks or setting books).  This is to avoid spoiling the adventure for potential players. The core of the book is a decent-sized dungeon-crawl. Being a DCC product, you can expect it to be a very creative kind of dungeon crawl, of course, with some weird and crazy elements to it.

So the adventure starts out with the premise that the PCs hear of a temple to one of the "old gods", which contains the power to answer any question you might want answered, and which also must somewhere contain the vast amount of treasure that is required as an offering to use this power.  Curiously, the adventure-writer seems to assume that a party will be more interested in getting at the delicious treasure than getting a question answered. I mean, he does offer a scenario where the PCs might go there to get a question answered, but the scenario from then on proceeds with the supposition that the PCs will ransack the temple.

In my own DCC campaign, at least, I have no doubt that my players would be WAY more interested in the question-answering power of the temple.  To be fair, they would also proceed to ransack the temple. So I guess fair is fair in this case.

The temple has some significant defenses, not least of which is a pretty nasty curse that is also a bit mechanically complex for a GM to handle.  Guidelines are presented for running the curse, which is not quite like anything I have ever seen before. I'm pretty sure that players who run into it (and it will be very unlikely they would avoid it, if they behave in the standard PC fashion) are going to be pretty damn shocked by it.  Fortunately, the adventure also provides as means to break the curse, which is neither impossible nor so easy as to make things trivial. Some of the details of how the author suggests the curse be run (in terms of how he thinks players, rather than their characters, should have to act while their PC is under the curse) seems a bit gimmicky to me, but I suppose some GMs might like that, while the rest of us could ignore that bit.

The temple itself is a multi-level dungeon of a standard sort, but full of the kind of weirdness you expect from DCC. The presence of feral (mutant) halflings similar to those in my own DCC world are a nice treat.  The various areas are well written, with details to the different features of each room, and where significant guidelines as to how characters suffering from the temple's curse are affected or can interact with the area.  There's a couple of very significant areas at the 'end' of the dungeon, which include some extra-planar stuff and an extremely dangerous foe for the character-level suggested.

There's excellent maps and some nice though non-essential player handouts. The layout and organization is such that a GM who has read through the adventure once before playing should have little trouble managing the actual play.

One detail I'll mention in praise of the adventure is that it is NOT a "nega-dungeon".  That is to say, unlike certain OSR products, it doesn't just screw around with the players, and actually offers significant reward at the completion of the dungeon, though without making it too easy for the PCs. That's a welcome feature if you're not the kind of GM who thinks that every adventure needs to just be a mindfuck that punishes player ambitions or teases the PCs with promises that will not be delivered.  Even so, for low-level characters this will be an extremely dangerous adventure; but by virtue of not being a nega-dungeon, I don't particularly think there's anything wrong with that.

If you're running DCC or any other kind of gonzo OSR game, you will likely find The One Who Watches From Below to be a worthwhile product.  Particularly if what you want is something that is still in the style of classic dungeoneering but with some creatively weird twists.


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  1. Do you think it would work as a zero-level funnel? Some DCC adventures say that they function equal well as a zero-level or first level scenario - I'm just wondering if this is one of them.

    1. This one does not explicitly state that. It's hard for me to say definitively. I think that a group of 0-level characters would be very challenged by this adventure; but again, I think that DCC has a quality where most adventures can be run by just about any group, if you scale it a little.

      My own DCC groups are usually a very mixed bag; there's often some 0-level guys there, a number of lv.1-2 guys, and then some higher level guys all going together.

    2. This was a partial funnel for us. It was 3 level 1 characters and 2 sets of 0-levels. It worked well. But, the curse felt somewhat diminished when it affected a 0-level versus a 1st level, at least in our experience.