Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #67: Sailors on the Starless Sea

I've heard a lot about this adventure, so I kept an eye out for sales. Back in September there was one on Warehouse 23. I've linked to there but you can also find this one on RPGNow.

Dungeon Crawl Classics #67: Sailors on the Starless Sea
by Harley Stroh
Published by Goodman Games
$6.99 in PDF on Warehouse23

This module is a 0-level adventure for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. The whole "0-level guys taking on danger they can barely handle" bit of DCC is showcased here. The setup is a ruined keep of Chaos on a hill, kidnapping of villagers, and a bunch of stalwart locals gearing up and going in after the missing.

The adventure is flat-out excellent. It's got a lot going for it - it's creepy, it's got a good squick factor without being gross or horrible just for the sake of being horrible, and it feels tense. There is a reason to push the pace as a rescuer, but hell to pay if you push too hard and too fast. The enemies are interesting and appropriately dangerous. There is a payoff set-piece that is very cool, explains a lot (without needing a lot of explanation), and potentially rewards a variety of approaches. Like a lot of low-level adventures, it might make a good solo mission for a mid-level character (which is how I used a lot of them back in my 1st edition AD&D days.) And like DCC seemed to imply in the rulebook, keeping the special magic items is probably not the safest and wisest choice.

Some of the puzzles seem a little rough - the titular "starless sea" is a good example. There is a way to cross it safely, but it's not more than vaguely hinted at. You could make a guess, but I'd bet experienced players used to adventuring puzzles would be better off than people just going off of the hints in the adventure itself. Since that could end the adventure right there with poor choices, or what even seem like the "good" or "right" thing to do, it's one I'd be inclined to add more hints to.

I have the expanded version, which comes with a third area. It's an interesting addition, but it feels superfluous. Much like an expanded "Director's Cut" of a film can lose some narrative tautness and pace, this just feels like extra that doesn't help out. It's good stuff, but I'd be inclined to run it as originally released and leave this aside for a return trip to root out a last bit of evil left after the initial delver.

How is it for GURPS? I think it would work very well with GURPS. It's especially suited for a straight-up fantasy game or in a DF game using a Law/Chaos world split and bargain henchmen templates from Dungeon Fantasy 15 (which is written partly with these kind of adventures in mind.) I may run it that way next time I need a low-point GURPS module that will come with plenty of lethality.

Overall: This is a tightly-written, well-mapped, interesting adventure module. It reads well and it appears like it would play well. I plan to run it in some form in the future. Just reading it made it worth its $6.99 cover price.


  1. Sounds interesting. Did you ever review In Searchof the Trollslayer? I remember you posted something a long time ago about what people want to see reviewed and I requested that one. Just curious.

    1. I found it. I need to re-read and review it.

  2. "Like a lot of low-level adventures, it might make a good solo mission for a mid-level character"

    I want to run this for my GURPS group but I'm not sure what power level to run it at. Do you think 12 65-point peasants might work? Three 100-point heroes? Or one 250-pointer?

    1. It depends on how powerful you make the foes, honestly. If you convert them so they're about as tough as in DCC - so guys with 3-4 HP are probably one solid hit away from death, guys with 8-10 2-3 hits, etc., mostly fodder-level defenses in DF terms, it will be okay.

      DCC characters are fragile but GURPS combat is harsh - it's easy to be crippled, wounded to non-functionality, etc. My rough idea is 3 62 point characters per player, for my current group of six players, which would mean 18 guys. The module says "10-15 0 level characters" with an estimated 7-8 surviving based on playtesting.

      For a solo game, I'd go with a 250-375 point character, perhaps erring on the lower side and giving access to a fair bit of healing if only because on bad roll can end your session without it. In my old AD&D days, we used to use level 1-3 modules as solo ones for level 5-6 characters, and level 3-5 or 4-7 for 7-9th level characters. But that was AD&D, where low AC and high HP meant you could wade into groups of foes without an issue once you had a few levels on you. In GURPS, the more like Conan you are, the more likely you can solo it.

  3. Thanks for the review. I have *lots* of DCC adventures (bought the combo with all 50+ of their D&D 3.5 PDFs), but not this one. Will add it to my to-buy list.

    Scaling difficulty is hard. My recommendation is to take Luck. Even if the GM gets the difficulty right, if there's only one character, a single bad roll can mean a total party kill. With Luck, at least you get two more rolls to avert the fluke.

    1. Taking Luck is just flat-out good advice for any solo adventurer.


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