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Saturday 20 October 2018

RPGPundit Reviews: The S'rulyan Vault

This is a review of the RPG Supplement "The S'rulyan Vault", written by Venger Satanis, published by Kort'thalis Publishing. This is a review of the print edition, which actually appears to be a combined book containing what was originally two different books (the S'rulyan Vault I & II).  It is a thin softcover book of about 30 pages.

The front cover is a full-color work showing what is (for Venger) a surprisingly classic image of some adventurers fighting a dragon in a dungeon, with the back cover featuring a much more Venger-esque cover of some women covered in slime, with a tentacle monster looming over them.

The interior is in black and white, featuring only a couple of well-drawn illustrations, and the back page even has a very well-drawn generic-D&D character sheet (technically, for 5e, being as it has a 'proficiency' stat on it).

As I've done before, I want to state for pure transparency that Venger Satanis is my co-host on the youtube RPG-themed talk show "Inappropriate Characters". I don't think this will affect the nature of my review (I've certainly not been afraid to be critical in past reviews of his work), and I do not have any other business association with Venger nor did I have anything to do with the creation of this book or profit from it in any way.

The basic backdrop of the product is presented in the credits page, describing it as "a collection of random tables and guidelines for using the corresponding megadungeon map". And that "this work is compatible with most roleplaying games that fall into the Old School Renaissance category".  In a slightly odd choice, the map is not included in the product itself, possibly because of its size, though even a reduced-scale version of it might have been a good idea to include. However, I was informed by Venger (when I asked him about this) that the electronic version of the map will be provided to anyone who buys the print edition (though I guess you might have to ask for this). The maps are made for printing on a fairly large scale.

The book proper starts out with "a brief history of the S'rulyan Vault". It talks about an ancient Demon Lord, served by Snake Men, who once almost wiped out humanity. But a group of adventurers managed to destroy the demon lord and the Snake Men were defeated inside their dungeon. But 75 years later, due to the foolish ambition of a queen, the demon lord was raised up again and now threatens the world. Now the king of the land where the S'rulyan Vault is located offers a million gold piece ransom to whoever brings him the head of the demon lord from the vaults.

After this, we get right into the random tables. Pretty much the rest of the product is random tables; which generally is something I quite like, but I've had a mixed history with Venger's tables, so we'll see how this turns out.

The first is a 10-item table to use, if the characters are locals, to determine whether they have a personal stake in the mission. Largely, this has to do with a plague the Demon Lord caused in the kingdom, and determines whether any loved ones of a PC died in the plague.

Second, there's a 12-entry table of Rumors about the vault, with the recommendation that every PC get to roll once. It's suggested that the rumors should become focal points of the campaign; whether or not they are true.  It is left up to the DM to decide if a rumor is true or not.

After that we get a brief description of the entrance to the Vault, and then guidelines for searching and wandering monster checks. This is followed by a table called "What's in the Dungeon"; this is a 20-entry table, with a result and then descriptions of what the result means.
Frankly, this table confuses me; if taken at face value it seems to be meant to suggest what the entire contents of the dungeon are. But the content is so limited that it doesn't really make much sense; it MIGHT make a bit more sense if what it really meant was what's found in a dungeon ROOM, but at the same time some entries suggest that this can't really be right either. It may be to describe a region of the dungeon? We're provided with no guidelines, one way or the other.
Example entries include things like "trap with monster" (sounds like a room description), "Doom!" (explained as 'unkillable monsters, death rays, the end of the world), "science fantasy" (described as the great robot war, synthoid uprising, etc).

I think maybe some of the descriptions are unclear; really the majority of entries would make the most sense as being meant to describe room or local area contents.

Then there's a much more straight-forward 20-entry table of "what are humanoids doing when encountered", which is just fine. This is followed by a 100-entry table of "what do PCs find when they search", advising that any time PCs spend 20 minutes searching a room or dungeon area they should get 1d4-1 rolls on the table. The contents are a mix of the mundane/useless (a rusted gauntlet, some dung), the valuable (2d8sp), the useful (a crimson cloak that might provide protection from death rays), to the gonzo (a note scrawled in chalk saying "beware of sleestak" or a broken circuit-board). This is a really fine table of random items.

The next section involves an encounter with a weird apocalyptic monk, who believes the world has come to an end on the surface; the GM is left the choice as to whether that's actually true or not! A random table is provided, in case the GM wants this to be the apocalypse, to determine just what happened on the surface.

Next there's a brief section detailing an encounter with a spy for the snakemen that the PCs might also meet in the vault.

Magic Items is the next table, detailing a random list of 12 magic items, including various magic weapons and some miscellaneous items. The table is fine, and each item has some additional qualities. It's just large enough to potentially be useful.
There's also a much shorter random table of 3 relics. These three are good too, but they aren't really at the "D&D Relic" level of power.
Finally, there's a table of 7 cursed items (with a result of 8 being 'roll twice', which seems way too big a frequency to find 2 cursed items with). The cursed item table also isn't actually an item table, just a list of curses, though I guess these could mostly be tacked on to any number of otherwise useful magic items.

After this we get a set of tables for generating fortune telling. This includes a table to see who the fortune teller is, the method used, the reading (a combination of three tables) and the payment expected. These tables are pretty good.

At this point we get to the start of the second part of the book. It begins with an introduction (that would have been more useful at the start of the book as a whole, though I suppose that in this case Venger wanted to keep each section separate). This introduction touches on three crucial points: first, the importance of "Gygaxian Naturalism", which Venger describes as 'providing a realistic background for adventuring'. Second, to have a compelling reason why the PCs are down there. Third, the opportunity to show off one's own GMing style and creativity.

After this, there's a table (4 entries) that describe how loud humanoids are being in the dungeon. Then, a mechanic and 30-entry table for what happens if the PCs sleep in the dungeon; where on a 2/6 they don't have any encounter, a 3 or 4 means they have a wandering monster encounter, and on a 5 or 6 they roll on the table. The table has some very unusual entries, including machete-wielding clowns, radiation, a PC becoming an undead, a stairway appearing out of nowhere, and other such things. There are several entries here that suggest something essentially character-killing happening to a PC without any chance to avoid it, so as usual I have some issue with that little detail of Venger's writing style.

Next there's a table for random monster parts the PCs might find. It's a 30-entry table, which is fine, but most of the entries are just things like "teeth", "horn", "stinger" or "tentacle".
  This is then enhanced with tables to determine how hard they are to remove from a corpse, a table to explain 'why take it' (with different special powers it might have), and a final table for how long any benefit might last.

Next there's a table to determine the particular quirks of any given faction.  It's a 100-entry table, and it's quite good; basically a long list of strange behaviors, but suitable for crazy gonzo cults or weird tribes.

Next, a useful section on "restocking the dungeon", for when PCs clear out a section of the Vault and return that way later. There's a 6-entry random table, but in this cases six entries is enough for the basic idea; plus a couple of additional small tables to see if traps have been reset, if there are new traps, or treasure, or evidence of sorcery (with a subtable to determine if there was 'sorcerous evidence').

Next there's a 20-entry table to generate random hirelings. This table is fine, generating the name, race, class and a miscellaneous detail about the hireling in question.  A secondary 4-entry table is meant to generate the hireling's loyalty; this table is pretty simplistic, though I guess it does the job if you don't use 'retainer morale' rules OSR-style.  It does mean that if you go by the table, a hireling will betray you 25% of the time.

The last page of the book presents a dangerous dungeon creature called a 'glitter worm', and a strange magical slime known as "zoth", which has a variety of qualities.

So what to conclude about this product?  It is pretty unusual for a 'megadungeon'. It has a map with no room key, no set locations or content. It has a set of random tables that can let you generate dungeon rooms or areas, and some of the random tables are pretty good.

I guess if what you want in a megadungeon is set (or even semi-set) structure, then you're not going to like this product.  If the idea of a megadungeon generated entirely with random tables and your own creativity is appealing to you, then you MIGHT like this, but I suspect you'll find that even with the two parts together in one product, the S'rulyan Vault is still a little light.  I think that if there were twice as many random tables, but only GOOD ones, then this concept could work better. Even then, I would personally think something along the lines of Castle Gargantua, which has mostly random generation but with various differently-themed "sections" of the dungeon having their own set of random tables, plus a few set-piece locations, is a better concept to go with.

Even so, there's certainly a few tables here that could act as useful play aids for dungeon adventures in general.


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  1. Thanks for the review, hoss!

    While it could be a lot of fun to generate an entire dungeon with just these random tables, I suspect most gamers will want The S'rulyan Vault to add some interesting bells and whistles to established dungeons either bought or home-brewed.

  2. Shouldn't the cover have more blue in it?