Game: Bloody Jack’s Gold
Publisher: Goodman Games
Review Dated: 21st, August 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
In some ways Bloody Jack’s Gold gets off to a false start. The front cover says, “Remember the good old days, when adventures were underground, NPCs where there to be killed, and the finale of every dungeon was the dragon on the 20th level?”
Hmm. No. I didn’t play D&D back then because that’s exactly the sort of game I didn’t like! How did the dragon get there? Why? I want to meet a NPC for a second time (as in, not having killed them the first time) and then, on the third meeting, discover he’s been the villain all along! Or a powerful ally!
If it wasn’t *meaningful* I didn’t have much time for it. But I was young back then. I was a bit of an arse. Whereas I still prefer gaming which stimulates other parts of my brain than just the combat tactic zone (all gamers have a combat tactic zone in their brain) I can kick back and appreciate a good-for-a-laugh dungeon crawl. The original GameWyrd “harassed by oil beetles” banner was inspired by such a game.
Rather ironically Bloody Jack’s Gold isn’t a no brainer. It will make you consider options other than which arrow to use or spell to sling. There are some nice touches here and so if you’re worried about spoilers then go visit a random roleplaying site instead and stop reading this (link provided by the Cyber Nexus).
Bloody Jack was a pirate. He captured a ship load of gold, hid it somewhere and then died. He often went raiding the ships of the mighty empire. What? No mighty naval empire in your game? In theory this shouldn’t be a problem and in practise it isn’t – but this Dungeon Crawl Classic (number ‘#4, by the way) finds some time to offer help here. Suggestions as to who this empire might be in your game and the inspiration author, Joe Crow, had in mind when he put the backdrop plot together. Touches like this win me over. Yeah, I know, I’m cheap.
Dungeon Crawl Classics are a deliberate throwback to the “old days” of D&D in more than just flavour. The book has an appearance which reminds us original Dungeons and Dragon products. There’s all that text on the covers. There’s that yellow striped corner. The inside covers have blue ink maps. These aren’t cartographical wonders. They’re basic but functional and good enough. 32 pages and US$10.99.
So, by bloody hook or ship’s crook, the players get involved in looking for the legendary treasure of Bloody Jack. The book picks up as they approach the island. You’ll notice new monster entries for Barracuda and Moray Eel. It’s not that easy though, players will face the Fiendish versions of these creatures, or Fiendish Dire creatures or even Fiendish Giant creatures. This is a tough adventure! You’re looking at about four to six players of about 10th to 12th level each – the party total being at least 50. You’ll want someone to deal with the traps or you’re dead meat and a good cleric is extremely helpful.
There is a pile of gold. In fact there’s so much gold that even the dungeon crawl classic is worried about it – DMs might restrict the amount of gold that characters take back because there’s too much for the characters to carry. There’s also a matter of ghosts. Bloody Jack killed a lot of people – including his own lieutenant – in order to keep the gold safe.
There are ghosts to deal with – this gives the adventure an extra dose of last ability. Haunted treasure can turn an adventure into a campaign (though that’s neither required nor necessarily wanted). There are also the fiendish creatures. The connection, typically, come from “helpful” evil gods and demon lords. I imagine the conversation might have gone a bit like this, “Hi, I’m letting one of my pirates staying on this Plane as a ghost as he’s going to cause all sorts of lovely trouble. Care to help?” – “Oh sure, we’ll send up a horror or two and some assistance. We like trouble.” Oohkay, so perhaps the conversation between the evil pirate god and the demon lords didn’t quite go like that but that’s effectively what happened.
There’s a rather pesky imp to deal with and, for me, this imp makes the adventure. As the characters deal with awkward traps, find their way around a treasure hiding, specially constructed maze and fighting the good fight the little magic using imp is shadowing them invisibly. If a character gets in trouble and is alone – the imp will approach. The imp will approach and actually offer help. It’s a imp – it works for hell, it’s here to corrupt people – it doesn’t help the stranded character for free. All the character has to do is sign an innocent looking letter. There’s no immediate game effect (other than, of course, the imp saving the character) but I can quite imagine the horror that some players will experience if they have to make that choice. I can also imagine some players I know being quite blasé about it to – and as an evil GM I’d relish the chance to make something of the contract. Alternatively, the GM can decide that any agreement between the character and the imp is meaningless. This, I’m sure, is a handy observation to have in print for anyone with a religious objection to the idea.
In summary then, Bloody Jack’s Gold is entertaining on many levels! Some gaming groups will appreciate the tight tactics required to win through, get the gold and get out with it again. Some gaming groups will appreciate the nautical aspect of the adventure – a rare thing to find in the pre-written adventure collection. Some gaming groups will be able to go with the haunted treasure problem and turn this adventure in to another one. Similarly, lots of fun and future adventures can be launched from whatever mischief the imp manages to achieve. I think the whispered offers from the imp itself, especially in moments of crisis, will be the highlight of the adventure.