The Emerald Enchanter (DCC)

The Emerald Enchanter (DCC)

This adventure clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

 

All righty, first things first: This review is based on the 2nd printing that features a bonus scenario. I will analyze that as well. The adventure is intended for 2nd level characters, and the presence of spellcasters is recommended, as there are some scenes where items may be activated via spell checks. If you happen to have no spellcasters, DCC’s rules still allow for spell checks for non-casters, but yeah – I’d recommend, as pretty much always, a well-rounded group. This adventure can be rather deadly, and certainly counts as one of the modules that not everybody will survive – particularly since the focus here is pretty classic: There are several rather tough encounters that can’t be skipped, so your group should definitely have some combat skills – more so than in “Doom of the Savage Kings” and “People of the Pit”, we have a more pronounced emphasis on combat. If you happen to love the modules, but not the rules, you should know that the module doesn’t utilize many of the more intricate and unique components of DCC, which makes conversion pretty simple.

 

Speaking of which: The inside of the front cover features a STUNNING full-page b/w-artwork of the location of the final showdown of the main module, which is AWESOME. Seriously, this one picture sets the stage perfectly.

 

As always, the module does provide well-written read-aloud text to help you navigate and run the adventure. The main module does not require more prep work than usual for a dungeon; however, the bonus adventure is pretty free-form and either requires some experience in that regard or improvisation skills. The adventure does come with the encounter table listing the adversaries encountered.

 

Now, and this may just be me, but since it’s what I experienced, here goes: Look at this cover. It may just be me; it may just be an odd peculiarity of my brain and the myriad connotations accumulated over my life. But…I honestly expected some serious Oz-references here. You know, due to the whole green/emerald-aspect. This is not really the case. This is not a happy-go-lucky adventure, nor a dark twist on Oz-themes. Instead, it is a crawl into the fortress of a seriously demented wizard. I’m obviously not penalizing the module for that, but I figured that it would be useful to some to state this clearly.

 

All right, as always, this’ll be the place where I pronounce a big SPOILER WARNING. I’m going to thoroughly spoil the adventure below, so potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only judges around? Great! Villagers have been disappearing, and the brooding citadel of the emerald enchanter seems like a good place to investigate – the mad mage seems to have once more emerged from his studies…and indeed, upon arriving at the citadel, there will be no doubt as to the grisly fate of those taken: The emerald guard constructs  (emerald eidolons) seem to come in two variations: One that represents genuine constructs, while the other such guards are the result of living beings dumped into the sorcerous vats of the enchanter. The latter revert to their erstwhile shape upon being slain, and indeed, the first such man encountered will provide a clue for a latter part of the adventure with his dying breath. He stated that Thesdipedes knows the word, and this clue will allow the PCs to later save the transmogrified humans…provided they know how to ask the mummy that is a part of the Emerald Enchanter’s consultorium. Alongside a brain in a jar and a talking skull. The PCs can’t cast speak with dead? Luckily, there is a scroll that would allow any spellcaster to cast it, though that requires lip service to a patron, which could have interesting long-term ramifications and further adventure options. The reversal of the process btw. is based on a low DC spell check and a blood sacrifice of 1 point of spellburn. Nice to see that smart PCs can be heroic and do something “better” than murder-hoboing everything.

 

But I digress. The first room of the actual citadel holds massive mosaics that form into a tile golem, which makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, if potentially very lethal combat: The entity can replenish its powers by drawing upon the environment, create beasts from tiles, etc. The mechanics here are amazing, and the options available to the golem are cool and consistent in their application. The golem’s tile absorption may actually reveal a hidden door, for example. Many modules would handwave this; this one provides mechanics. If I had one complaint here, it’d be that there is no real reward for being smart: The golem has Act 1d20 and gets a free tile draw (to blast, heal, create tile critters) in addition to 50 hit points. It basically represents a potent bottleneck right at the start of the module, and could be overwhelming to less experienced groups. If you have AoE-damage, this is the time to whip it out and destroy as many tiled sections as you can. Without AoE, though, you should get ready for a war of attrition that the PCs may well lose.

 

If you haven’t noticed it by now – this module is pretty damn dark, and while it does feature things that may seem goofy or gonzo, they’re not goofy, and even the gonzo components don’t feel funny. There is, for example, a hallway of blackened rock, with spirits of the slain trapped in the wall. These are hard to kill, attempting to hit them may result in broken weaponry, and they represent an important notice: Bypassing these is much easier than besting them, and indeed, this module is not necessarily intended to be cleared. Or, well, if you try, get ready to have the difficulty increase…

 

The eponymous Emerald Enchanter is a good example of a BBEG that has a presence before the final encounter: With emeralds acting as teleport foci and flying skulls tracking the PC’s every move, the evil wizard feels like a constant, threatening presence, and e.g. the lack of means to simply bypass many obstacles like the golem make sense from the perspective of this evil mastermind. These flying skulls btw. also represent a nasty trick: For a lot of the dungeon, these respawning surveillance mechanisms are pretty much a creepy paranoia-inducing dressing in creature form…until they’re not. There are instances where these skulls become capable of blasting the PCs with rays!

 

PCs doing their homework can also find the source of power of the emerald enchanter’s transmogrification vats, a captured moon-devil that clever PCs can free to gain a boon. An enterprising judge certainly should take this as a long-term angle to connect this section to adventures of the moon etc. in the future. Said entity is contained in a sublevel of the dungeon that is pretty much skippable – level 2 and 3 are both pretty brief and, together, constitute roughly the equivalent of a dungeon level that is slightly shorter than level 1 of the citadel. Minor complaint: The story notes that this thing is responsible for the transmogrification vats, but while releasing it does come with a potent reward, this has no direct impact of the finale, when it, logic-wise, probably should.

 

It should come as no surprise that, ultimately, the dungeon contains plenty of odd and weird guardians and magic tools – trapped protoplasmic demons, odd laboratories, ruby cats and topaz serpents – there is a clear leitmotif at work here, and a clear method to the enchanter’s madness.

 

It should also be noted that we do get a buff suite for said enchanter – and aforementioned demon? Well, freeing him does reward the PCs by making progress smoother. The showdown, which, as mentioned before, is lavishly-illustrated in a one-page, massive handout, features the emerald enchanter and his creatures – and a massive, factory-style mechanism that acts as a timer of sorts. Dawdling PCs will witness transformations of innocents. …but on the other hand, smart players will have a means to reverse the process by now, which can make the emerald enchanter trying to goad the PCs into rash actions less effective. Interesting choice!

 

This was where the main module used to stop. In this iteration of the adventure, though, the sequel “The Emerald Enchanter Strikes Back” (yes, with title printed in Star Wars font…) delivers the full-blown, unrepentant gonzo I expected from the module. This module was, to my knowledge, originally released as part of Goodman Games’ Gencon program booklet in 2014. Where the main adventure was an exploration through a mad scientist-style gonzo wizard, with some seriously dark tones, this bonus adventure penned by Jobe Bittman delivers the gonzo. It also radically deviates from the main module in structure, as it’s basically a hexcrawl. The overland map provided is separated in multiple zones, and from random encounters to a couple of keyed locations, this aspect is pretty free-form: Basically, the map is separated into two distinct zones. You see, the emerald enchanter the PCs have just slain? That was a simulacrum. Now, a gigantic robot…ähem…golem, with classic glass-bubble head and radiant emerald power-core in the middle is wrecking the landscape, and the module is about the PCs exploring the region and attempting to pin down the emerald enchanter’s engine of destruction. This is pretty amazing and a premise that could have covered much more than a brief epilogue.

 

I can’t say enough good things about this bonus adventure, but at the same time, it has one weakness that is somewhat grating. While the PCs *theoretically* can destroy the titan, it’s not the intended course of action. Instead, the PCs are expected to get inside the titan and make their way up. Wait…sounds familiar? Yeah, this premise was already used in the second of Goodman Games’ classic 3.X Wicked Fantasy adventures. That being said, the exploration of the emerald titan’s interior is much briefer and less complex, and emphasizes some goofy things. The colossus is not water tight, for example, so PCs in the feet may see the titan attempt to drown them by holding a foot under water. The colossus also will squeeze beehives inside, try to poke at players with treestumps, poking inside it – you get the idea. This very much embraces the ridiculous nature of the set-up. Sounds amazing, and frankly, it is. On the down-side, we get no descriptive text for the interior regions of the emerald titan, and indeed, scale and movement within the titan are not really covered, requiring pretty much that the judge wings these aspects. This feels doubly odd, since the aforementioned actions of the titan all get proper mechanical representations. The glass dome at the top houses the emerald enchanter, who proceeds to initiate evacuation protocols – 10 seconds, then the glass dome will detach and fly…wherever the judge desires. Nice way to segue into a new adventure!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect. I noticed a couple of typo-level glitches. Layout adheres to the 2-column b/w-standard of these adventures, meaning that we get quite a lot of content per page. The artworks in b/w are amazing, and the handout of the final showdown is particularly glorious. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the merits of the print version, since I do not own it. The cartography is, as always, awesome and beautiful – but there are no unlabeled versions of the maps, which means that VTT-appeal is slightly decreased…and that the players won’t get to see them. This is particularly grating regarding the bonus scenario’s hexmap. There is no justification for not at least getting a proper player-friendly version for the overland section. The bookmarks are pretty basic –no individual rooms are marked.

 

Joseph Goodman’s “The Emerald Enchanter” is an adventure that truly feels distinct in tone. The notion of a dark fantasy module that makes things that should by all accounts feel gonzo, actually managing to make them…disquieting? Horrific? Is quite a feat. There is no question as to the Emerald Enchanter’s vileness and insanity once the PCs get into this. Jobe Bittman’s bonus adventure adds a seriously fun over-the-top climax to the proceedings and represents a great change of pace. This adventure has a lot to offer, and I love its total commitment to its dark fantasy vibe and how it makes things that should be goofy disquieting. At the same time, it did not connect as well with me as the previous adventures in the main DCC-line. Perhaps it’s small inconsistencies like the one in the bonus adventure, or the fact that I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the Emerald Enchanter’s presence throughout the module, his active counter-measures and the like, could have been more pronounced. The constant PC surveillance ultimately doesn’t amount to much, and feels like a bit of a lost chance. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

 

You can get this unique adventure here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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About Endzeitgeist

Reviewer without a cause