Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Adventure Site Contest: Review #13 The Nalfeshnee's Monastery

By: Archives of MU

Ruleset: AD&D

Recommended Levels: Hopefully appropriate for levels 8-10

The Gist: Much fun was had writing this entry, and much fun was had while reading it.  It is not really a playable entry, however, as it finishes with a dollop of LOTFP negadungeon .  It also breaks the 4th wall a lot - ironic/sardonic commentary on culture/politics is layered on thick, the minotaurs have a GWAR poster on their cave wall, etc.  Some people will love that, others not.  I don't pass judgement on the style-as-style, but I'd note that I've yet to see someone turn out a string of playable material employing it, and creating strings upon strings of creative material is foundational to running a campaign. The natural limits of meming as a creative school may end at the gates of functional gaming scenarios.  It often seems as though making a style statement is priority #1A, the intent is to make playable material is #1B, and at some point in the process meeting both priorities became increasingly difficult until the author said "fuck it" and leaned hard into #1A to finish the project.  Does this creative school pose a similar mirage to gaming applications as Hickman's novel writing did in the 80s, where gaming had to bend to it to work instead of the other way around? I don't know; I think it would be cool to see that product that still would work if the style were stripped out - which is the test, how are the bones?  I just haven't seen it yet.

I'm sure there are other scene references too inside baseball for me to grok.  I did a google search for horned werewolf and the only thing that seemed relevant was a bit about some cryptid claimed to be seen near Gloucester.   At least I caught the Doom bits.  

As mentioned, playability is high the earlier in the text encounters and locations occur.  The keep is laid out intelligently, it feels like the author wants that to be considered authentic to someone who would care.  The height upon which it rests would normally pair very well with a Type IV demon able to telekinese 500 lbs and make combat terrifying to consider - I was anticipating this until discovering the demon was in the cellars.  If proceeding through the gatehouse with its murder holes and arrow slits, by hook or by crook, an alien garden stands before you in the central yard.  In it are more than a dozen "humans" (the aforementioned horned werewolves) cavorting; the fruit of the garden might help chaotic beings but others can expect only pain.  In the corner is a captured prize - the jeweled skull of a pope, protected by some undead (released by a trap that pisses green slime on those nearby).  This is all very good.

Other minor areas nearer to the gatehouse also make thematic sense with a monastery and feel playable as concepts.  You get the larder/cook, some anchorites, etc.  One issue with higher level characters is the cramped size of the location - area of effects often increase with levels, and many of these encounter locations are tiny in size with many inhabitants (example: 30 anchorites in 450 sq feet of space that includes bunk beds and trunks for each of them).  But that might just be chalked up to not seeing enough of these ideas play out at the table.  

The only real issue I have in the early going is the name of a demon is given away to anyone with the ability to read Demonic script.  For higher levels, some means to decipher this can be almost presumed.  Learning the name of any lower-planar monster is a massive deal, just throwing it up on a statue breaks most game worlds at all concerned with that type of coherence.  I suppose non-goofing players might presume it's fake, but at any point if they find out it's real - and they must employ it expecting it to be real to have a snowball's chance in hell at the end - either the adventure or the game world it's ran in must break.

Another similar point is the chaotic monks; it seems to exist only to be incongruent.  There's so many good underused CE monsters...

From here, the bigger rooms get increasingly memed.  The minotaurs using overbearing on the high bridge is great; their lair felt underwhelming (apart from the GWAR poster).  The vampires are yuppies plotting to urbanize your favorite town.  The large chapel has the cool stained glass floor with the eight-pointed star glazed in along with scenes from the Abyss, but once that visual is ingested there's nothing to do there except descend to your Raggi-fied demise.  

At the bottom are your doom-swords and the sound of hundreds of demons shrieking through the stone walls.  Grab the swords, the doors open, and 665 manes pour out.  The Type IV demon makes 666.  I get it, I get it.  But this is what I mean by it's just a meme written in adventure form.  It's very funny when nothing's at stake.  Are we going for priority #1A or #1B?  

To be fair to the author, he puts right up front that this isn't playtested so the odds of someone grabbing this and expecting #1A aren't high.  I wasn't.  But you still always hope to be surprised, and when there's fun stuff there you really hope to be surprised.

Monster Roster: The monster roster is varied, although not many challenging foes for the level range: leucrotta, bugbears, ghouls, a wight, chaotic monks, vampires, minotaurs, and an ogre magi. 

Then the uncertain variants: horned werewolves, human anchorites (0-level?), animated suits of armor.

Treasure: It's really light for the risk. A few thousand GP of monetary treasure, some +1 suits of armor, a potion of healing, and the aforementioned doom-swords - which are only +1, although granting an extra attack roll if you hit.  But there's nothing here that a 10th level character would use after the adventure was over in preference to their likely already-better gear they came in with.

Do I think this will work: No.  

Do I like it: I want to - there's a ton of great ideas and themes in here when memes are stripped away, even if the bones on the layer beneath that don't work in game-as-game form.  But I get memes and jokes on social media; I don't really want them in game form.


1) bugbears or skeletons in the gatehouse?

2) the beginning says you need to have your Monster Manual to use the product, but the tweaked monsters or other combatants often don't have either stats or a reference there.  Are horned werewolves just werewolves?  Does animated armor match to a monster there (no stats are provided)? Etc.

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