Game: Aerie of the Crow God
Publisher: Goodman Games
Review Dated: 26th, August 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
The Aerie of the Crow God is from the Dungeon Crawl Classics series from Goodman Games. The idea here is that it’s done in the old style of D&D. “Old” as in appearance, when the company was just young their products simple, and when people who are now 45 were 15 and busily kicking in dungeon doors. Jumping to the point – I don’t normally like dungeon crawls let alone pre-written adventures but I’ve found its easy to play these “classic” adventures in good humour. Other gaming groups, I’m sure, will relish the tactical challenges here and some DMs will use bits from the game or wrap it in a larger plot.
In fact, The Aerie of the Crow God is especially left open for larger plots. However, since I cut the usual caveats abut pre-written adventures we’re onto discussing the adventure already. If you’re worried about spoilers then flap off now.
Rightyo. Still here? Good. The Aerie of the Crow God is open to larger plots because there’s a shadowy blackmailer in the background. It’s up to you who’s blackmailing the lady of the manor and thus forcing her to hire the characters to enter the tower fortress of Gurnard’s Head. Fear not, the game has two alternative suggestions for local NPCs who could full the blackmailer role if you don’t have a long term villain of your own. I like this. Okay, I like this because it has the signs of a non-linear, overlapping, expansive campaign which is perhaps everything that Aerie of the Crow God is not. That doesn’t matter though – it’s an added bonus which can be taken or left.
The blackmailer could be quite a tough character to deal with. Ultimately she/he might not be as tough as the final fight in the tower. The Aerie of the Crow God is tough but the rewards for characters whom do well can be very high. There are a whole bunch of powerful magic items kicking around just for a start. Fair enough, this normally works well, challenge the players so they have fun and then award them suitable so they don’t feel too bitter. But, but, but! Every olde style D&D adventure seems to do this. I want a low level adventure, an easy one, one where the players can experiment with their characters and abilities – and it doesn’t have to be chock full of treasure.
Aerie of the Crow God suits four to six players of about 7th or 8th level. There’s no mention of useful classes – and there aren’t really any issues in here. It’s not so easy to scale this adventure down, making it suitable for less powerful characters as playing with the encounter levels doesn’t change the troublesome strategies and the good guys won’t stand a chance. It’s easy enough to scale the adventure up; just start doubling the amount of small creatures in mass encounters, adding to the DC of traps and powering up the encounters with proper nouns.
As for the plot, well, tower fortress of Gurnard’s Head did it what it was designed to do – not to fall to an enemy attack. Someone had a jolly good go, attacking by surprise, stopping the tower from stocking up on supplies and camping outside until the garrison inside starved. The garrison inside didn’t starve though, not all of them anyway, as some of the soldiers turned to cannibalism and feasted off each other. By doing so they wound up as followers of Malotoch, the carrion crow demon (so we’re fudging the demon/god thing here). When troops finally arrive to relieve the tower they, very rightly, decide that those inside are too evil and too far gone to save. They just keep them locked in the tower. Rather than die, though, the cannibal troops are turned into ghasts and ghouls by Malotoch. Oh, that tricky demon! And so as the memory of the tower fades into history, the actual tower stays in place and the ghouls make it even more fort-like by burrowing tunnels into its rocky base.
Skip forward to the character’s time. The local lord unfortunately decides a harpies are the worst thing the tower has in it and since they’ve been bothering the locals and raiding graveyards he sets off to purge them. Ooops. He’s missing, presumed dead, when the characters arrive. It’s his lady wife who’s been blackmailed.
Then rest? It’s a dungeon crawl in a tower. It has traps, fights and magic treasure – just like an old Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game might have!
The Aerie of the Crow God does what it says it’ll do. It’s an easy promise to live up to but if it had gone wrong it would have gone terribly wrong. In actual fact the adventure is quite fun, there’s just enough going on to interest people and a good chance much of the back story will come out (whereas it’s normally lost entirely). This was a 2004 Ennie Award Nominees for best adventure. It’s good enough for me.