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Saturday, 29 September 2018

RPGPundit Reviews: Dead God Excavation

This is a review of the RPG adventure "Dead God Excavation", which also includes the adventure "La Bas Chartreuse".  The former is supposedly for Venger's Crimson Dragon Slayer game, the latter for his The Outer Presence game.

This is as always a review of the print edition, which is softcover and about 28 pages long. It features a full-color cover with a surrealist painting of something vaguely Lovecraftian.

The interior pages have a color shading and include a mix of color and black & white illustrations. These are almost entirely images of monsters, mostly Lovecraftian monsters, though there's also at least two images of basically naked women.

For the purpose of transparency I will note that I have a kind-of professional relationship with Venger, in that he's my co-host on the Inappropriate Characters Youtube show.  I'm not involved in any way with the creation of this product, nor do I make any profit from this product. I want to include the notice of his being my co-host for the sake of transparency; I don't think it will really affect the quality or substance of my review.

In the first place, a note on production: while having colored pages has a certain aesthetic appeal, I found that the dark colors and background images on the pages of this product make it more than a little difficult to read. In some places, slightly annoying; in some areas, particularly near the top of the page in the first adventure, really difficult because it's a very dark background shade behind black letters. Venger should have gone with lighter tones.

Dead God Excavation starts with a very short (4-entry) random rumors table related to an ancient kingdom named Voss'th Ekk, a place with "powerful and dangerous mysteries man was not meant to know". Naturally, the PCs are heading into that area. More specifically to "the excavation site of a gigantic tomb".

At the tomb, there's some complicated local politics happening with the archaeological dig, and many people with different priorities. When the tomb is finally opened, it's full of deadly perils, alien metal, a kind of symbiote, and a dead Lovecraftian/Howardian god.

Besides the reading being impaired by the fact that the top two lines of text require extreme illumination and very good eyesight to discern, the structure of the adventure is a bit complex, but I do have to say that the stuff inside the tomb (without giving away any spoilers) is all fairly interesting. So, in all, not too bad.

At page 17 of the book we get to the second adventure, "A Bas Chartreuse". The "bas chartreuse" is supposedly a "stairway leading to hell itself" somewhere in the jungles of Sri Lanka. The adventure set-up is left quite open, with an account that could be presented to the PC in any way the GM wishes (suggestions include a message in a bottle, a colleague who has been interned in an insane asylum after an expedition, etc).  It describes the stairway, a monolith, and terrible sacrifices, and everyone in the expedition except the person making the account were killed. No specific reason is given as to what would motivate the PCs to go looking for this type of horrid place, it's just assumed they would (of course, a horror-investigator campaign pretty much takes that as a given anyways).

There's a table for some (six) potential random encounters in the jungles. Only one of the six potential encounters is supernatural (a 'tentacled dripping lurker'), the others include guerrillas, drug cartel thugs, natives (potentially cannibals), some other expedition, or insane cultists.

The PCs will go on to encounter the monolith (whenever the GM decides it's time, I guess, encounters in the jungle are listed as 'one per night', but there's no indication of how many nights you should spend in the jungle itself). The monolith provides an entrance to "an unforgiving realm of starry chaos, a shadow reality".  What happens in there? Well, we get into another feature of Venger's products, one I don't much care for: nothing you do matters in there. There's two random tables, of "what happens to you" and "silver lining", each has only 6 entries. The tables are the only guide to what happens inside the 'starry realm', ranging from "you become a pet of one of the entities in that universe", to "after several hours wandering that realm you find your way home"; and a set of effects of how being in there changes you. None of these rolls are affected at all by anything the PC can do, or any of the PC's knowledge or abilities. It just happens. There's not even any roleplaying involved.

After this there's a random table for the effects of Alien Metal, which Venger states is also useful in the "Dead God Excavation" adventure. This is a 20-item table, which is way better than having a 6-item table, and it's fairly good. It is mostly only descriptive of effects, rather than giving concrete statistical data; but if you're using the book for any system other than Venger's own that's probably just as good.

After this, there's a random table for 'how much blood is there' around the monolith. There's seriously a 6-item random table that just provides different ranges of how much blood there is (with one option saying that instead of blood there's a weird ichor).  Now, does it matter how much blood there is? Does the amount of blood present change the rest of the adventure? No. It's entirely aesthetic, and yet he spends a quarter of a page on this. I'm a fan of random tables, as you may well know if you read my work, but not of pointless random tables. The entire section could have been substituted by one sentence saying "the GM should decide how much blood there is around the monolith and mention it to the PCs".

Finally, there's the stairs. You get a three-quarter-page description of the trip down the stairs, culminating in cthulhu-esque terror. But again, there's absolutely nothing the PCs can do that matters, with the exception of not going to the monolith in the first place. There's another 6-item random table, which describes what happens to the PCs. These range from instant death, to various horrible effects, none of which are determined by anything the PCs did or anything about the PC's attributes.

This adventure isn't a railroad only because there's absolutely nothing pushing or motivating the PCs to go to the jungles in the first place. But it's about as bad as a railroad, because there's pretty much not a damn thing for the PCs to do in this adventure. It's just "go to the place, and then something will happen to you that you have no control or influence over".

So what to conclude about these two adventures? Well, if I had to rate them I'd give "Dead God Excavation" a 3/5. It's not really terrible, but not especially great. It's also difficult to read through, both in the sense of somewhat disjointed structure and in the sense of being literally hard to read because of the choice of background color in the pages. And La Bas Chartreuse gets a 1/5. Really the only thing saving it from a 0 is the very basic premise itself, but the execution fails completely. The alien metal table was OK.

On the whole, you should only get this book if you're already a fan of Venger's products and you don't mind adventures where nothing your PCs do really matters.


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  1. I appreciate the review, hoss, and respect your opinion... even if it is wrong most of the time. ;)

    La Bas Chartreuse is more of a set-piece / GM tool, rather than an adventure. It requires fleshing out. And that "how much blood" table can and should be used anywhere there's a potentially gory scene.

    The difficulty reading is more an issue with the print than the PDF. It did turn out darker than intended, but still readable. Just don't try to use it in a dimly lit room. BTW, the PDF also comes with a black and white version that's easy on the eyes... and one's printer!

  2. In case anyone curious what it looks like, I made a video awhile back. The video is poor quality, obviously. Sure, white text on a slightly darker background would have been the better choice. But, I honestly don't think it's *that* hard to read.