Thursday, July 9, 2015

The One Who Watches From Below

The One Who Watches From BelowThe One Who Watches From Below by Jobe Bittman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you haven't guessed that I'm an Old Skool Role Playing Game geek yet, you either haven't known me long or you haven't read many of my book reviews. Rest assured, I wear the derisive "Geek" label quite proudly, at least in terms of . . . well, almost everything.

Notice the "Old Skool" referenced above, however. I started gaming as a kid back in 1979-ish (I did some of the old Microgames before then, but they aren't RPGs, really, they are more very complicated board games - and a lot of fun!), gamed for many years, had a little hiatus in the early '90s (the '90s were an odd time in my life, as in other's, I'm sure), then returned to the fold in the late '90s.

So what am I doing reviewing a new (relatively speaking) module, (c)2014?

Take a look at that cover. How can you resist that? Seriously? Doug Kovacs' artwork is amazing. You know you want that tattooed across your back. Don't deny it. It's just soooo cool! Besides, I heard that it had won the 2012 Mystery Map Adventure Design Competition, and I am wont to enter such competitions once in a while, so I had to know - what makes this so impressive?

You see, over the years, I've become pretty jaded when it comes to RPG modules. There are the classics, your Tomb of Horrors, Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, etc. And then . . . well, most modules just aren't very original. Yes, settings change, and the baddies are lizard men instead of orcs instead of kobolds instead of drow elves instead of . . . you get the idea. But really, they're all about the same, which makes them predictable (save for a few wayward catastrophic dice rolls) and, frankly, really boring.

But this . . . this beast is different. I think it has to do with creator Jobe Bittman's philosophy of monster design, to begin with, as he and Lamentations of the Flame Princess creator James Raggi recently outlined on the excellent Drink Spin Run podcast, where monsters should be unique, terrifying, and not easily defeated. And the monsters throughout are amazing, from mutant halflings (which are way more horrifying than they sound), a cthulhoid "Titan", and even a Giant Mouth that roams around a room lashing out with a 30' long tongue if it isn't properly fed. These monsters are different and unexpected, not something that your players will be familiar with. "Kill it with fire," might work on your standard troll, oh Monster Manual reader, but good luck killing the Wall of Eyes with fire. *chortle* *chortle* *guffaw* Mwahahahahahahahahaaaaa!!!!

OK, get a hold of yourself, Forrest . . .

*sips Ginger Ale*.

There, that's better.

Of course cool monsters are one thing, but this module . . . this module . . . takes things into an entirely different dimension of roleplaying. I won't spoil it for you, but I will let you know that the main conceit of this module will involve at least one of your players (more, if you're lucky and they are not) having to utterly change her or his form of communication with the outside world. Oh, I wish I could tell you, but I can't spoil it. It's so wickedly cool that the most macho of Dungeon Masters will *squee!* in delight when they read about it. I'll give you another hint: it has to do with eyes. Just think about that for a while.

This will test not only the cursed lucky player(s) but all of his or her companions, as well; at least any of them with which the lucky player wishes to . . . well, I almost gave it away.

And the beauty of this is that it's a 1st level adventure. So no high-level magely tricks here, folks, no gods interceding for your pious cleric, and your little thief isn't going to just weasel her way out. Oh, and combat? Yeah, there is some, but your fighter is going to have to be much more resourceful than swinging a battle axe to make it out of this in one piece. Oh, it's a dastardly dungeon for low-level characters. It will test their mettle and push their roleplaying skills like they've never been pushed before. I guarantee that this little gem will take the most seasoned of gamers out of their comfort zone and into something completely new, fascinating, and terrifying . . .

. . . it'll be like 1979 all over again!

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