Game: Cave of Life
Series: Darwin’s World: d20
Review Dated: 19th, February 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 14
Average Score: 7.00
Those Wyrdlings who frequently read my reviews will know that I like to savage pre-written adventures. Generally I find them to be clichéd and a waste of money. I’ve found good cause to give many scenarios below 5/10 scores, including some written by famous names. The Cave of Life is immune to some of my savagery. It’s immune because it’s free. It costs nothing, zippo, nill, ziltch, it is entirely up for grabs. In fact if you’re new to the world of PDF RPG and are feeling rather nervous about downloading and unzipping files then Cave of Life is an absolute must for you since it’ll serve as a great introduction to the procedure.
The Cave of Life is designed to be a specific introduction to Darwin’s World, a post-apocalyptic d20 setting from RPG Objects. It might be a free product but it’s not out on a limb, it’s foreshadowed in Denizens of the Twisted Earth and uses some equipment from the recently released Artifacts of the Ancients – but you can certainly run the adventure without either.
It’s a dungeon crawl. It is shameless dungeon crawl and in some ways that’s a shame. Here we have a brand new game, a daring genre, a cutting edge format and we’re back again to trekking around in dark corridors. On the other side of the same coin the familiarity is also a boon. The adventure contains events where the players might get themselves exposed to asbestos dust and the effects are quoted as the cloudkill spell, just diluted somewhat. Mutant rats are treated as dire rats and there’s even an ooze. That’s good, I think, since it shows would be Darwin’s World GMs that creating an adventure in the Twisted Earth need not tax them very much more than creating a scenario in their family fantasy world. I also happen to think that “dungeon crawls” are more applicable to Darwin’s World than they are to many fantasy games. In most fantasy games the idea of an “adventuring class” as a career lifestyle has had to be invented and pushed into the world view, I think Earthdawn is one of the few fantasy games where there’s an in-game reason as to why there are these vast underground structures. In Earthdawn people hid down these shelters to escape their own apocalypse and that’s pretty much the same as Darwin’s World, however, in Darwin’s World there’s a more compelling reason to be bothering with the dangers of these old ruins. In the Twisted Earth these underground shelters, prisons or hospitals might very well be safer than the surface. A reflection of that is the sheer number of ways a GM has to introduce the Cave of Life into his game, characters might simply be exploring it in search of water (the default option) or might be trying to hide out from raiders there. I have to say I much prefer the raider option, I believe there’s a note in the PDF to say that the author prefers it to, the presence of other humans (or mutants) in the old silo adds an interesting dynamic and helps lift it up from the linear dungeon crawl levels.
There are certain advantages and disadvantages in running a scenario off a PDF compared the typical paper medium. I’m normally happy to deal with PDF rules but for the purposes of an adventure where everything’s going to be a GM’s note I suspect I’d want to print it all off. The layout of Cave of Life is printer friendly, it’s plain text with the graphics and maps saved to the end. One of the main advantages I found was with the player handouts. There’s a diary that is easy to text-select, paste into Word, re-font and then print out. That is so much more easy than trying to re-write by hand diary entries (which characters can find) from a textbook.
The adventure itself is good enough. It compares to, say, Demon God’s Fane or any other dedicated pre-written adventure. There’s probably much that a GM will want to change but it’s easy enough to do and the game has plenty of inspiration. You just can’t go wrong with the Cave of Life, it’s free, so what do you have to loose?
Tucked away at the end, in the OGL content section, you’ll find three new creatures. Even if you’re not going to use the adventure, these creatures are free to use.
You really have to wonder why more companies – these big multi-national companies – don’t offer more in the way of free PDFs. The Cave of Life scores most of it’s points on Value for Money – and why not?