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Monday, 3 July 2017

de Harken Inheritance

Reviews from R’lyeh’s 2016 review of The Fenworthy Inheritance caused no little interest amongst the Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition community as evidenced by these recordings* and this discussion at Yog-sothoth.com. For although The Fenworthy Inheritance is not written for use with any version of Call of Cthulhu, its use of the GORE™ Open Game Content Rules published by Goblinoid Games—best known for the Old School Renaissance Retroclone, Labyrinth Lord—means that it is surprisingly compatible with the mechanics of Call of Cthulhu. The publisher of The Fenworthy Inheritance, MontiDots Ltd. is not only a publisher of horror scenarios, but also of fantasy adventures too. Just like The Fenworthy Inheritance is written for a retroclone of a horror roleplaying game, these scenarios are written for use with a Old School Renaissance retroclone of Dungeons & Dragons.

*AireCon IV: MontiDots Interview, the fourth recording is the relevant recording.

The first of these adventures is MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall: A MontiDots Adventure for early versions Fantasy Role-playing games. which uses Knights & Knaves’ OSRIC™ System (Old School Reference and Index Compilation) for its mechanics. This means that it is roughly compatible with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but the advantage of this and many other Old School Renaissance roleplaying games, scenarios, and supplements is how compatible they are with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, let alone each other. MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall is an adventure for First Level characters, the first in ‘The Tales of Highcliff Gard’ trilogy which will continue with MD3 Necromancer’s Bane and MD4 The Tales of Highcliff Gard. It introduces the Highcliff Gard setting and presents a relatively short—just twenty-one locations—though highly detailed dungeon that can played through in a session or two.

The setting for MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall is Highcliff Gard, a village at the heart of Highcliff Gard Vale located in the south of Fiefdom of Kaldemar. Both valley and town are isolated, both geographically and politically, though the reasons why are not initially obvious. The scenario and setting make various changes to the standard Dungeons & Dragon-style set-up. One is the inclusion of Stationers, an organisation of bards who deliver messages, but more important to the players are the changes to the available Races and Classes. Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings are all available as player character Races and together with various Sylvan races and beings and many of the Giant races, they are known as the ‘Erle Folk’. Essentially the Erle Folk are all Fae and to some degree or another all possess Fae Sight. The standard version of Fae Sight allows Infravision that works day and night as well as the ability to see hidden doors and beings. Even Halflings possess limited Infravision, whilst Dwarves have limited vision when outside, but better hearing. On the downside, the people of Highcliff Gard are strongly ill disposed to the ‘Erle Folk’, Elves especially, though Halflings and Dwarves are just about tolerated. So the players really need to be aware of this xenophobia before playing MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall.

MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall includes changes to just two Classes—the Cleric and the Magic-user. Clerics in Highcliff Gard are polytheistic, worshipping a pantheon rather than a single god and making offerings to each of the gods of the pantheon as necessary. This gives Clerics access to a wide range of spheres and thus spells, the given pantheon for Highcliff Gard suggesting a Norse influence—no surprise given that the designer is from Yorkshire. Magic-Users can brew potions with the aid of a liquid known as Aqua Conjurum, which is brewed by alchemists typically of higher Level. The problem with these changes is that they are not as clearly presented as they could be. 

At the heart of MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall is a mystery and a curse. Long ago, the first Lord of Highcliff Gard, Sir Agrail de Harken, came to the valley and began construction of a castle. Unfortunately, he angered an Erle noble who responded with a series of curses. The first prevented further construction of the castle; the second spread fever and famine throughout the valley after de Harken banished all Erle Folk from the Highcliff Gard; whilst the third meant that no male de Harken ever lived beyond his fortieth year. The player characters learn of this from a bard whilst passing through the valley, but their presence has obviously been noted because they receive a summons from Lady Karlina Harken, the wife of the current Lord of Highcliff Gard who is in his thirty-ninth year and so due to die within the next months…

Recently, damp at Harken Hall has revealed a previously concealed door and Lady Karlina Harken wants to hire the adventurers to venture beyond this door and discover what secrets it hides. Beyond the base payment, Lady Karlina will pay for all information that they can learn, especially if it gives clues as the nature of the Harken family curse and how to lift it. What lies beyond the concealed door is a circular complex of just twenty-one rooms and corridors. These are currently inhabited by vermin and the undead, all relatively weak ones given that this scenario is for First Level, though there are signs that the complex was once in use by the living. The dungeon is just thirteen pages in length, but several of the rooms are large enough and important enough to have one, two, or even three pages devoted to them. What this means is that these locations are rich in flavour and detail that supports the investigative and explorative aspects that dominate MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall. In fact, there is so much information in the scenario that the Dungeon Master is advised to tell his players that they should take notes about what they find and that come the end of the scenario, the player characters will be rewarded Experience Points for not just killing creatures and taking their treasure, but also for how much information they gather. To that end, MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall is not a scenario wherein the overly curious will be punished for investigating just a little too much. The players should pay attention to the details of each and every location in the dungeon if their characters are to get the best out of MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall.

This investigation and its accompanying level of detail will not only reward the player characters in terms of clues and thus Experience Points, but also some decent magic and/or special items for player characters of First Level. These are quite detailed in their effect and quite useful in their way, but without being overly powerful.

Originally devised to be run at Gary Con VII in 2015, MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall comes, like all MontiDots Ltd titles, as a spiral bound book. Which means it sits flat and folds to show a single page all very nicely, so this is a nicely serviceable format. The author is a freelance artist, so the artwork in the book is also very good, although given the spiral bound format of the book, it would have been nice if there had been some illustrations at the back of the book to show the players a la S1 Tomb of Horrors or S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. The cartography is not quite as good, being serviceable at best when compared to the artwork. One problem is that whilst the area map of Highcliff Gard is better looking and has more character to it than the dungeon maps, the detail on it is just a little too small to read clearly. The writing though, does need another edit and perhaps many of the adventure’s supporting features could be better organised and presented.

Although MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall includes both clues and links to the next part in the trilogy, MD3 Necromancer’s Bane, but it could be run as a standalone affair if that is what the Dungeon Master desires. Whether it is run as part of a trilogy or a standalone adventure, MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall is a beginning adventure of a different stripe. Most adventures for characters of First Level tend to focus on exploration and combat, but this adventure’s focus upon investigation and exploration means that MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall: A MontiDots Adventure for early versions Fantasy Role-playing games makes for a refreshing change.


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MontiDots Ltd does not currently have a website. Copies of MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall and other scenarios are available direct from the author.