It's the month of Halloween! Though I understand many people still call it "October". Fine. Whatever.
I thought this month I would spend some quality time with products that fit the theme of Halloween. While putting together my list I realized I had a bunch of products from Kortthalis Publishing and +Venger Satanis. I thought, what the hell, lets make a week of it.
Venger has had an interesting time in the RPG biz. I remember talking to him shortly after he was banned from RPG.net and we discussed our respective horror games. He has had a nice rise recently as an OSR publisher and has a few nice titles under his belt.
Lately he has been promoting something he calls O5R, which I have to admit it very clever, or products that can be played with either old-school games and their clones or with the newest 5th edition game. It is a solid strategy really. I have demonstrated time and again to myself at least that you can freely mix the two in terms of adventures. I would imagine that goes even further.
Today though I want to start with one of his first OSR books.
Liberation of the Demon Slayer
I first picked this up near when it was released. Since then I have considered it a potential entry in my War of the Witch Queens adventure path.
The adventure is six levels and 70 pages. VS suggests using 3 0-level characters per player and let everything work out, or a large party of 1st level characters. Nothing is mentioned on how many players, but I am guessing 6 to 8.
There is some background given about the world this adventure lives in. They are all optional, but it does set the mood for the rest of the book. I found the bits about Snake-men and elves to be interesting. The adventure is steeped in a lot of Lovecraftian tropes and we are introduced to some of the "Old Ones" here, albeit with different names.
If you, like me, love eldritch abominations and dark magic then this the adventure for you. The adventure itself "sounds" simple enough. Retrieve a demon killing sword from the caves to stop the demons attack your village. Easy peasy. Trouble is that the author grew up when dungeons-as-meat-grinders were a thing and everyone was afraid the big bad devil was going to get you. This adventure though is closer in tone and danger to the Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen than it is to most Lamentations of the Flame Princess products. With the right DM this could be a great and dangerous adventure where the party could live. Sure they could all easily die too. One can read this and imagine that all of the author's games are a bit like it.
Actually I have known the author for a number of years and yeah this is exactly the kind of things I expect in his games. I think the difference here with this adventure and some of his earlier material is there is a maturity here to accept the absurd. This adventure can be played straight or with a dash of dark humor. Think of it as a horror movie, even the scariest have a touch of humor to them; it sets you up for the bigger punch later down the road.
The adventure proper gets going about page 17. We are treated to rumors, some background, wandering monsters and some maps of the first level. The maps have been drawn by +Dyson Logos , so you know that these will be interesting. The feel of the first 4-5 pages of the adventure is really one of pure old-school nostalgia. The first level is a bit of meat grinder, by design, and there are a lot things going on here that would make the hard-core Gygazian adventure fan happy. Going back a bit it becomes obvious that the "optional" information above is still rather important since it colors the actions of many of the inhabitants in this dungeon.
As you descend into the dungeon things get weirder and more deadly. I mean really, really deadly. Devil lords, liches, vampires, freaking lasers and a nuclear warhead. Yeah, VS really cut his teeth on the 70s and 80s era gaming.
I want to take a moment to talk about the art. Yes there is a lot gore, nudity and phantasmagorical horror here. It comes off though more as "Heavy Metal" than say "Hustler". All I can really say is that it fits the aesthetic of the book. In truth I had more of an issue with the sci-fi elements (even though there were very good reasons for them to be there) than I had with the nudity.
The demon-slaying sword Kalthalax is an interesting weapon. One that would have a good home in my regular games to be honest and one that is enough of a hook to make me want to find a way to work this adventure in. Maybe I can make Clavenus a witch instead of a wizard.
In any case there is a lot of fun to be had with this adventure; if you don't mind the occasional casualty. I think what helps here is while the adventure is a meat grinder, it is done just to rid the party of the weak. They are expected to survive and tell people the tales of their great adventure.
While VS takes the care to make sure this works with nearly any old-school game (and in the future he fits 5e into that as well), I can't help but think how well this would work with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. The background is similar and the elves in Demon Slayer would be a nice addition to AS&SH, which does not have any elves. Indeed, elves would seem like souless, demon-like monsters compared to humans. At least to humans that have never seen an elf before. There is a mix of demons, devils and Lovecraftian beasts/gods that somehow feels right for that world. Mixing in AS&SH to this would give you something very, very close to playing akin to Michael Moorcock's world.
Curiously enough in my own games I do have an epic weapon for killing demons. In my current world state this sword is lost and a quest is needed to recover it. Maybe this is what I need. If so then the value of this adventure just increased ten-fold for me. I am going to have to spend some quality time with it and a pencil to see if it can be recrafted into something that fits my world a little better.
However YOU decided to use this adventure I am sure it will be fun. Maybe deadly fun, but certainly fun.