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Reviews - Idylls of the Rat King
by Matthew Pook

DCC #1 coverDungeon Crawl Classics #1: Idylls of the Rat King
Published by Goodman Games
Written by Jeffrey Quinn
Front Cover by William McAusland
Back Cover by Jason Edwards
Illustrated by Brad McDevitt
Cartography by Matt Snyder
32-page saddlestitched booklet

One of the best releases from last year was Goodman Games' $2 dungeon, Dungeon Crawl Classics #11: The Dragonfiend Pact, an incredibly wallet-friendly adventure that gave you an entertaining session or two's worth of old time dungeon bashing. At the time of its release, the very first in the series (which has since gone to amass nearly twenty titles) was out of print, but now a new version, completely updated for use with Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, has been released.

Although Dungeon Crawl Classics #1: Idylls of the Rat King is designed for the modern incarnation of the game, its tone and ethos, along with the rest of the series, is pure Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: First Edition. Thus, adventures like these take place underground, NPCs are there for the slaughter, and if it fails to end with a dragon in the last room, what kind of adventure is it? Of course, being designed for characters of first to third level, Idylls of the Rat King naturally foregoes the encounter with the dragon. The party should comprise between four and six characters, and include a Rogue, a Good aligned Cleric, and a Fighter, preferably armed with a silvered weapon (one more clue as to the adventure's antagonists).

Physically, Idylls of the Rat King is a TSR scenario writ large. The artwork succinctly captures the awfulness of the scenarios it is inspired by, and the maps - placed on the inside front and back covers, no less - are as straight, bland, and dull as a political party broadcast. Surprisingly, the front cover painting is really rather good, but the back cover one is anything but. This is perhaps a sop to modern conventions that demand a cover be eye-catching in order to sell. All of this is packaged in a 32-page booklet designed to capture the near TSR style that is oh-so-retro and designed to nudge our nostalgia buttons. It seems to be working, as the Dungeon Crawl Classics series is proving to be highly successful.

The set-up for the adventure is simple. For years the village of Silverton has thrived on the profits earned from its surrounding silver mines. Recently the silver caravans have been ambushed by goblin bandits, thought to be lairing in a nearby abandoned mine. This mine also happens to have the town's very first, opened by the original prospector. It has a bad reputation after a great evil was unleashed upon the workers, and in revenge the village's inhabitants killed the prospector and then cursed and banished his family. As the adventure opens, the party has tracked the bandits back to the long abandoned mine.

What you get in the adventure is four levels of a silver mine populated first by goblins and rats, and then progressing up through dire rats, skeletons and zombies to lycanthropes (goblin wererats no less) and evil goblin sorcerers. It is fair to say that this is a very combat intensive scenario, but with the rewards only coming towards its end. The Encounter Levels run from one through four for the bulk, with the tougher opponents being rated at EL five, six, and seven (the latter only if the players are very silly and ignore all of the warnings).

Aside from the creatures to slaughter, there are plenty of secret doors to be found and traps to trigger, but not much in the way of roleplaying. Then again, how much was there back in the day in a TSR module? Yet Idylls of the Rat King includes several nods to contemporary sensibilities, not least of which is the severe loss of XP for putting the goblin females and young to the sword, so no wanton slaughter (a.k.a. ethnic cleansing) for you, Sir Duction of the Innocent. And the village (or is it town? The module cannot quite decide) details are given despite the book proclaiming that there is no need for them. This includes a map of the town, one that is much more detailed than the four of the mine levels. But since it was done using ProFantasy Software's Campaign Cartographer mapping program, you have to wonder why it was not used to create a more interesting map of the dungeon.

If this module apes any TSR Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: First Edition module, it is certainly one of the very early, and very American ones. Not that is necessarily a bad thing, but the modern touches do lend it a somewhat disparate feel. The problem is that Idylls of the Rat King models itself upon those early modules and suffers from the same lack of inventiveness. Certainly in comparison with Dungeon Crawl Classics #11, some ten modules later, the first entry in the series is of a singular combative note, requiring less thought from the players. That said, if you happen to be looking for a straight beat 'em up, Dungeon Crawl Classics #1: Idylls of the Rat King is perfect.

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