Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: Fortress of the Mountain King

Now that I've discussed the awesomeness that is The Village of Larm, it's time to move on to another product in what I call the Labyrinth Lord "Known World," CLA 1: Fortress of the Mountain King, written by Moritz Mehlem and published by Brave Halfling Games - who are also the author and publisher of The Village of Larm. This is a brief adventure designed, like Larm, to serve as an introduction to old school fantasy gaming. In my mind it makes a great companion piece to Village and they appear to be designed to fit together seamlessly.

Fortress of the Mountain King is a module designed for 3 to 5 characters between 1st and 3rd level. It checks in at only 14 pages, including front and back cover - so some would argue this means you really only have a dozen pages of "usable content." Fortress bills itself as a tournament module, and I think this is an accurate claim. It's designed to be played in a few hours time - I'd say about four hours. Basically, it cuts right to the chase.

Set in and around the village of Larm, the village has been plagued by a series of attacks on the outlying farms outside the village walls. Rumors say this attack is being orchestrated by the mysterious "Mountain King," a kind of local warlord. The local milita have discovered a nearby abandoned dwarf cave they believe to be the Mountain King's lair, but are too afraid and/or short staffed to explore it themselves. The mayor is offering 100 gold pieces to each of the player characters if they can explore the cave and return with the head of the Mountain King. All in all, this is pretty much standard fare for old school fantasy role-playing with no surprises in the set up of the adventure. It even opens with one of the milita scouts leading the characters to the entrance of the abandoned dwarf cave. Not a lot of exposition, just straight to the point.

That being said, it does give a paragraph or two on the village of Larm and even a rumor table if the players decide they want to inquire around the village for news. This is a nice touch. After all, who doesn't love a good rumor table?

I won't go into too many specifics of the adventure so as not to spoil it the surprises for players. I will say that the adventure has more than a few of those surprises. It aims to capture the essence of old school gaming in a very tight package and does so very, very well. There are an even mix of combat encounters and encounters where brains are more important than brawn. Not every monster in the dungeon is necessarily meant to be fought and in my personal experience, when I ran it my players had a few choice words for me at one particular encounter. Also, the thief died from a poison trap, natrually. Also, the true nature of the Mountain King is quite a nice surprise - powerful, but a fitting and deadly antagonist for a group of low-level adventurers. One of the more subtle aspects of the fight with the Mountain King is how it showcases the importance of equipment and its benefits.

Still, players who are able to defeat the him and discover the secrets of the caves wiill walk away with a few magic trinkets and generous amount of treasure. But the adventure is by no means easy. It's very high risk/high reward - and that's a good thing. A cautious party who takes their time and doesn't rush should do fine and there are several points where the author is more generous than I expected. The fact that the dungeon is actually described as being lit comes to mind.

Fortress of the Mountain King makes a perfect companion to the Village of Larm. When I ran them together I was able to expand the material given into an entire campaign. My players helped dwarves return to the caves and when the dwarves discovered ore still in the caves a dispute arose between the people of Larm and the dwarves over who had the rights to the riches - it was really good stuff.

This adventure is another great opener to an old school campaign. At 14 pages with a price point of $4.95 for the PDF it can seem a bit pricey for a 1-shot adventure that'll last just one night - but when taken as a piece of a greater whole I feel it's definitely worth the price of admission. Fortress of the Mountain King is very no-frills and very in touch with its old school ancestors. The art is evocative of that feel and the adventure plays like something we saw on the shelves of book stores back in '81. This is definitely a good thing in my book. It's available for sale in PDF on RPGNow and DriveThru RPG.

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