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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex $6.99
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/05/2019 05:27:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, ½ a page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 31.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This adventure is intended for 6 – 10 level 3 characters, and is situated in the city of Punjar. Picture an opium-clad, decadent haze, a metropolis of ancient stones, foundations old as time itself. A moloch – you don’t have to run this in Punjar, but you do need to have a decadent city with a storied past. As always, we do get plenty of read-aloud text, as well as a list of the encounters in question. My insistence on the setting of this module stems from its difficulty: The adventure’s complex is dangerous and pretty much requires that you can set it up properly. Without foreshadowing the shape of things to come, the players will be hard-pressed in this one. Groups that have no idea what “legwork” means will learn the hard way here that this rumor table that’s included herein? It’s not just decoration.

The module features two official handouts – one depicting a pretty epic room, one depicting a scroll that takes up half a page. Official handouts? Yep, one of the primary sources of treasure (and danger) is lavishly illustrated in a gorgeous full-page piece. This, while not explicitly designated as a handout, is de facto the third one.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . Only judges around? Great! So, in ages past, the cult of the Carnifex rose: Recruiting from the lowest of castes, from the diseased and crippled, a strange death cult arose, exalted in its worship of the transience of flesh, serving as the grand Overlord’s executioners, reminding the decadent nobility of the ephemeral nature of their lives, of the might of Punjar’s ruler and the cult. The decadent city’s delight over the macabre chthonic cult wasn’t universally shared, though – thus came Azazel of the Light, radiant and fanatic, bent on purging the world of the unclean. He amassed his Swords of the Pious and invaded the subterranean sanctuary of the Carnifex cult with a small army of the city’s brightest scions, girded in armor agleaming in the rays of sacred light. They dived below, but for all his might, not even Azazel could hope to slay the goddess. In his desperation, his pleas echoed beyond the realms of godlings and divinities, and tapped into the primal source of life itself. Suffused by the light of raw creation, he plunged the goddess into darkness, and sealed her away with the sacrifice of three of his best. Today, the descendants of the nobles that fought the Carnifex and her cult guard the hidden entry to the tunnels below – and the secret that remains.

It is into these storied halls that a ragtag group of adventurers wants to make their way into, that they’ll seek to plunder for gold and glory.

Come on, if that is not a set-up of pure awesomeness (and my prose is not half as good or detailed as the authors’, what is? This basically is the perfect Thief-age Conan story-set-up. This background story, or at least the nature of the Carnifex cult, is of the utmost importance for the PCs to know, for the beginning of the complex is very much crafted to potentially ward off intruders: Provided the PCs don’t fall to an ignoble death or are eaten by an immobile, disgusting and bloated spider-thing that tries to reel them in, cave-fisher style, they will witness skull-and-bones-death iconography that would be cheesy sans context, but for once actually works here. The PCs may actually cause and be swept away by an avalanche of skulls and indeed, further pain looms – as well as the bottleneck. The nature of the cult? Its secrecy and deviousness? It makes sense: In one room, the PCs are presented with multiple doors, and while the impulse is, of course, that one is the right one, they all lead to danger. The truth is a kind of Xanatos Gambit – none of the doors are correct, and the entry to the hidden sanctuary is actually a completely different thing. Considering the deadliness of the door traps, it takes some experienced players accustomed to dungeons that can make sense from a builder’s perspective to deduce this beforehand…though the challenges themselves can well be survived.

Though, granted, the PCs will need their resources for the things to come after this nice ante-chamber-ish mini-level. If the PCs have survived the challenges so far, they know what they’re doing. That’s good, for they are facing off against a military force. The swords of the pious yet guard these halls, and with drums, guards and a defense plan, they are formidable foes, fanatical in their devotion. They also are grotesquely mutated from the radiance emitted by the shell of Azazel, by the force of life. Death, but a conclusion to their service…which in itself is twisted, considering the ideologies of the prime players in question. The PCs may discern more from the ramblings of an exiled madman from their ranks, should they succeed in not being slain first, though traps and tactics make that a true challenge…but one that may pay off: The unofficial handout I mentioned? Well, these halls house the reliquary, where the most sacred implements and magickal tools of the Carnifex are left, from the eponymous jewels to the dreaded Grimoire Nex…but greed does have its dangers – this is not a place for the faint of heart or unskilled to plunder, and the intrinsic details provided ultimately mean that success is very much up to the skill of the players in judging, amidst other things, the risk-reward ratio accordingly.

Sooner or later, the PCs will find themselves in a brutal battle against a legion of the swords of the pious, and, should they live, have a chance to witness the lavishly illustrated and grotesque idol venerated by Azazel…speaking of whom…well, turns out he killed the three swords to seal the Carnifex, but the incomplete binding (which constitutes a kickass puzzle that can be solved logically) leaves only one conclusion: Azazel has never completed it. He refused to sacrifice himself and finish the job! At the very latest should this seal be sundered, Azazel will attack with all that remains of his mighty force. The radiant commander has perfectly drilled his men, and beyond that, strikes against him rupture the hollowed out shell of the divine essence…oh, and he has his own frickin’ crit-table. It’s deadly, and his tactics basically make him a multi-stage boss fight of the highest caliber, honestly one of the best finales to an awesome module I’ve seen. Oh, and yeah, the PCs may free the Carnifex. Meet her. Talk to her…or, if they fall, they may find such interesting amulets on their necks…And yes, the Carnifex is described in a way that manages, in a few sentences, to make her both alluring and utterly frightening. And yes, if you do think that the vast treasure may prove to be an issue – there are some ideas to handle that provided…

The bonus adventure included, penned by Brendan J. LaSalle “Lost in the Briars” doesn’t really have anything to do with the main adventure, but I actually believe that this is a good thing this time around. More focused, it represents a brief wilderness adventure. Nockmort, a meteorite-mutated treant, has almost finished a ritual that would allow it to ascend to godhood – all that it requires is an elf, so an elven PC (or an ally/retainer) can help regarding the stakes. The forest exploration features trees animated by Nockmort handing off, fire-brigade-like, animals, fleeing peasants, bandits, and a take on the Slenderman, Mr. Saturday Night. The forest also features a couple of keyed encounters, but ultimately focuses on thwarting Nockmort’s ascension ritual….and yes, it has less reliable Plan B scenarios…Nockmort, fyi, is BRUTAL. This may “just” be a humble bonus adventure, but it is NOT to be taken lightly! Unlike the main-module, it does not feature read-aloud text, which is a bit of a pity, considering how much I usually enjoy the author’s prose.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch on a rules-language and formal level. The module sports a ton of fantastic b/w-artworks of the highest quality, and particularly the two official/unofficial full-page artwork/handouts are amazing and make up for the fact that no player-friendly unlabeled maps are included in the deal – which is a pity, for the gorgeous b/w-map also sports artworks of adversaries faced within. Utterly baffling and hopefully an oversight – the pdf-version actually has no bookmarks! That is a huge and annoying comfort-detriment. If you don’t want to print this (which I did) or get it in print, consider this enough to detract a star.

I like how Brendan J. LaSalle’s bonus adventure takes a step back and does something completely different; it is a mechanical challenge and a fun, on-the-way sidetrek module that still has the DCC-flavor. It was a wise choice to opt for this route.

Why? Because I consider Harley Stroh’s “Jewels of the Carnifex” to be an example of a nigh-perfect Sword & Sorcery yarn. The prose is phenomenal and lavish, yet terse enough so it doesn’t bury you. The complex is plausible, deadly, and focuses, ruthlessly, brutally, beautifully on player agenda and player skill over rolling of the bones…though there’ll be plenty of that. I also adore and welcome the fact that this module pulls no punches. At 3rd level, your PCs and players better know how to properly dungeoncrawl – or this module will teach them. With delicious pain. This is a hard module in all the right ways. It makes sense, and even in its nastier moments, always remains fair. This is the antithesis of petty and fiat-laden – it is brutal, yes. As brutal as a good Sword & Sorcery yarn should be. It also helps that the prose and atmosphere feels as though Mr. Stroh had channeled the spirits of Leiber and Howard (or Roy Thomas, Savage Sword of Conan, minus the requirement to abide by the comic code – that was the non-goofy, pretty mature-audiences-oriented era…) and fused them with adventure-writing. This reads like a lost Conan-as-a-thief story, just with your PCs as the cast – and it plays just that way. And, in the end, you may well have a king’s ransom to carouse away in Punjar’s streets…provided you survive.

If that has not been made ample clear by now – I consider this a brilliant yarn. If you even remotely enjoy the Sword & Sorcery or dark fantasy genres, then consider this a must-buy. 5 stars + seal of approval, easily given. This also gets my best of tag as one of my all-time favorite Sword & Sorcery modules – and that in spite of the lack of bookmarks and player-friendly maps, which usually would cost this at least one star – it’s just too damn amazing to rate down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/28/2018 11:15:53

A derelict mostly subterranean temple dedicated to the patron goddess of executioners, flagellants and torturers may not be high on a list of tourist destinations, but there are potential rich pickings for intrepid adventurers. The backstory reveals how decadent society prized the misfit devotees of this cult, while city authorities found them... useful. It also tells of the destruction of the temple by those who prized light and beauty and life, and found the cultists' obsession with death so abhorrent that the only solution was to put them to the sword.

There are plenty of rumours that the party can collect merely by strolling through the nearby Bazaar of the Gods. Some of them even contain a grain of truth. The adventure proper, however, begins with the acquisition (by fair means or foul) of a map that porports to show the way in through the shattered remains of the temple to an unknown passage that leads deep underground. Armed with that, it's up to the party to decide if they will pick over the temple first, or plunge headlong into the depths at once. There's not so much to see above ground however.

Below it's claustrophobic and seemingly teeming with adversaries, who are carefully orchestrated to come at the party from all directions almost continuously. It soon becomes clear why the Judge is advised to prepare and plan out this adventure before running it. Descriptions are atmospheric and the threats are deadly; yet all are logical and based in the backstory and in the physical surroundings in which the party finds itself.

It's an imaginative adventure in which unusually for Dungeon Crawl Classics one adversary does actually try to negotiate with the party... not entirely honestly, to be sure. Detail throughout is stupendous, and even if the party gets away with the loot they then have to figure out what to do with it. Definitely recommended!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/02/2012 06:16:45

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/08/02/tabletop-review-dungeon-crawl-classics-70-jewels-of-the-carnifex/

Jewels of the Carnifex is the latest Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure put out by Goodman Games, creators of the system. Like most DCC adventures, there really isn’t a lot of setup for this hack and slash affair. You’re just given the hook of “Here’s a map to an ancient forgotten temple filled with treasure. Go to it.” As always, I’m disappointed that the creators of DCC adventures don’t put more of an impetus on why PCs are going through this dungeon but at least this particular DCC adventure steps up with a tremendous amount of back story for the DM to flesh things out to his or her own liking.

Jewels of the Cartnifex really turns the whole Law vs. Chaos concept on its head. Long ago, there was a godling known as Carnifex, whose followers embraced death, suffering and pain. The Carnifex became the patron goddess of executioners and torturers and was responsible for more than her fair share or hellish undertakings. Eventually a priest of light, life and law (alliteration!) stepped forwards to fell the foul cult of Carnifex. He and his swords of Pious were successful in imprisoning Carnifex within her own chthonic temple. However, it would turn out that this priest, Azazel of the Light was not quite as holy as he seemed as he and what remained of his warriors are now trapped within the Undertemple forced to guard over Carnifex until the end of days, the Carnifex is destroyed by a third party or the Swords of Pious are put down. It also doesn’t help that Azazel has become a living embodiment of life, causing living things within the Undertemple to grow massively in size as well as become covered in hideous tumours. The Knights of the Pious are completely mad at best and at worst, have become far worse than the Goddess of suffering they have entombed. Of course, the PCs have no idea any of this is coming. They’re just looking for treasure and a good battle. Little did they know they would be forced to take a side in an ancient battle between powers beyond their understanding.

I really liked the back story given throughout the adventure, along with the motivations of Carnifex and Azazel. It makes up for the lack of a PC hook and the further you get into the adventure, the more engrossed the Keeper and the PCs alike will become in what turns out to be far more than a simple ransacking. The whole alignment thing is thrown out the window with the Law side being backstabbing insane psychopaths and the chaotic goddess just wanting to be free…and get a little revenge on the side. PCs can choose to side with either or take them both out. It all comes down to who makes up the party.

Jewels of the Carnifex is written for six to ten Level 3 characters. That’s an insane number of PCs…unless you’re used to Dungeon Crawl Classics. These adventures ten to be both unforgiving and extremely harsh to player characters, almost to the point where the writers want there to be a “Keeper Vs. Players” conflict going on. It’s almost Call of Cthulhu-esque in that it’s a matter of how and when your character dies horribly, not if. So the more PCs you have, the more likely at least one of them is going to come out alive. As well, Dungeon Crawl Classics tends to suggest that players have more than one character each, although I find that when games do this, they become even more two-dimensional roll-laying sessions rather than role-playing. Still, it’s a convention of the system and when you realize six to ten characters means three to five players, it’s not as overwhelming and chaotic as it might first appear.

As I mentioned above, Jewels of the Carnifex is an exceptionally cruel adventure with several deathtraps from which there is little to no escape. It all comes down to luck and being overly paranoid that even the very walls of a dungeon are out to get you. I really enjoyed the final deathtrap as it definitely relied on players using their wits rather than hacking through things. You usually don’t see logic puzzles in a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, so, like the emphasis on story, this really helped make Jewels of the Carnifex stand out amongst the many other adventures in this line that are little more than dice hucking Monty Haul affairs.

Finally, I’d be remiss without mentioning the artwork in this adventure. From the cover art by Doug Kovacs to the interior art by five different talented artists, the adventure looks and feels like it has travelled through time from the 1970s Lake Geneva, WI. I’m a big fan of this art style and I especially love the maps that Dungeon Crawl Classics have with their adventurers. Jewels of the Carnifex is as much fun to read and to look at as it is to play through and that’s damn impressive.

All in all, this is one of the better Dungeon Crawl Classics adventurers since the series broke off from using the OGL to its own system of mechanics. I really enjoyed it and think it’s a definite must buy for fans of the DCC line. If your players require more of a setup or motivation than the old cliché of “Here’s a map, now go get the treasure.” You might have to spend a little time coming up with a better hook. Aside from that though, this is yet another hit for the Dungeon Crawl Classics system.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/29/2012 23:28:12

Jewels of the Carnifex is a level 3 adventure for 6-10 characters or fewer 4th to 5th level characters. Judges who have been following the Dungeon Crawl Classic adventures should know that the mysterious monsters and other obstacles can easily be modified upwards to make sessions more challenging. Spoilers ahead.

Much like the previous adventures, Jewels combines strong theme, mystery, logical consistency ("method to one's madness"), an occasional backdoor solution (secret door), fighting, and traps players have to defeat, not skill rolls. The plot of Jewels is the Lawful Azazel and his followers have destroyed the Cult of Carnifex has been destroyed and sealed away its patron deity. Azazel, however, has called for the primal light for aid. This light infuses him, and, ironically, has corrupted the undertemple far more than Carnifex could ever do. The PCs enter the undertemple to investigate, and either aid Azazel to finally destroy Carnifex, or free her from her prison.

DCC adventures implement well the "method to one's madness". Azazel and followers have settled into the undertemple (and are corrupting everything), so the enemies are either his followers, or corrupted overgrown versions of underground vermin. Likewise, many rooms reflect either the atrocities of Azazel, or the original temple of Carnifex.

Probably the only nitpick I have is that there's not much of a conflict in choosing Carnifex over Azazel. Azazel's a fanatic whose first impression towards to the PCs is to kill them. Carnifex is babe of a goddess who gives stat bonuses. No contest, really.

Otherwise, another fine job by Dungeon Crawl Classics!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
Publisher: Goodman Games
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/29/2012 11:01:23

If only other RPGs had this much support shortly after release. Actually, let me rephrase that slightly, if only other RPGs had this much quality support shortly after release. Everything I've seen release for the DCC RPG has been very good or better. Jewels of the Carnifex is no exception - it's damn good.

The background material for the Jewels of the Carnifex is awesome. There are seeds here to use in designing your own adventures if you are so inclined. Harley Stroh has done another fine job.

Something that struck me (but I'm sure I've seen it before in previous DCC RPG adventures from Goodman) is the rumors table. The roll is by player, not by PC - so there is an assumption here that players may be bringing more that one PC into the group. I know we often played with 2 PCs per player in my early AD&D days, as it was hard to fill a full group. I'm not sure if that is the intention here, but for the most part I've preferred 1 PC per player (plus henchmen). As a DM it's easier to follow who is doing what, and as a player it allows one to put a bit more focus on the roleplaying side of things. It's a minor thing, but something that struck me.

Jewels of the Carnifex is an adventure of twists and turns, and no greater one than in the last encounter. PCs can do very well for themselves, but as always, not everything is as it seems. Harley really has done a great job with this adventure. I can't praise him enough.

Even the wrap up after the adventure isn't neatly tied up with a bow as it often is in other adventures. There is much more here than meets the eye.

Crap - I'm sounding very cryptic, but this adventure is not as straight forward as it seems on the surface. As such, it should be a blast to run (and play in)

The maps are, as always, excellent. I'm going to sound like a broken record - "Joseph, start offering prints of these maps damnit!"



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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