CCC Review: Heir of Orcus Verse I/II (Anthony Joyce): 4.5 Stars
“This is a tale most evil and foul, a horrible tale indeed. There was an angel of Tyr sent without fear, to destroy the Temple of Orcus! SER VINDICTUS, Ser Vindictus we can still hear her prayer, as she led her poor knights to their ultimate doom…poor Ser Vindictus…poor Ser Vindictus, no one hears her prayers in that unholy tomb!” –Verse I
The Heir of Orcus (Verses I and II) is designed for Aethercon 2018 by premier author Anthony Joyce. Since it is made for an online convention, its play style, art, and maps transfer seamlessly to both fantasy grounds and roll20. The art, a retro pixel art by Joaquin “Dsurion” Reymundo combined with an original comic James Gifford, add a unique and “archaically fresh” element to the game that upholds the agency and uniqueness of Dungeons and Dragons, while giving a “video game” feel to the whole episodic adventure.
This adventure was designed for APL 3 characters, but is easily adjustable as long as you are teir 1. Both modules together should take about 6 hours, and should be quite easy for the DM to prep, as everything you need is given to you and explained in detail. While this would work just fine for table play, it is exceptionally geared towards online play–even including tokens and character portraits.
While I have almost no experience with AL or CCC content (and indeed have my own biases about the system), I will be judging these two modules together and on their own merits–it is high quality, exciting, and surprisingly flexible for an episodic module.
What I loved
Artwork. When I first opened the document, I was very impressed with the cover and comic panels. The maps, token, and character portraits are all in pixel style, and in my opinion, present and endearing and immersive retro style that adds a lot of character to the game.
Production. The production appears to be professionally done: there is not any noticeable typos or glaring grammar issues. The layout flows smoothly and aids the episodic nature of the adventure, though occasionally seems overcrowded or leaves awkward empty space. The writing is informative, occasionally stylistic, and communicates its point without distraction or needless flourish. Even at close to 70 pages for the two modules, it is a quick read.
Story. The story, plot, and encounters are fun, unique, and potentially very challenging while allowing players easy outs if they work for it. The encounters, when combat ensues, are a mix of single vs. party and horde vs. party, requiring a wide array of tactics and teamwork. The experience seems immersive and exciting, and because its AL based, there are clear suggestions about how to play the three different pillars (Combat, Exploration, and Social) for each encounter. While there is room for every character to thrive, the rogue may get the most screen time in these two modules.
Unique NPCs. The NPCs, especially the evil-aligned ones, are unique, engaging, and spring off the page with personality. With their own backstories, personalities, and motivations, they will be fun for the DM to play and the players to engage with. While some lack complexity, they are the minority, and there is enough information provided for the skilled DM to bring them to life. Overall, they add a great depth to adventure besides merely interacting with NPCs that all appear essentially the same.
Choice. The aspect I probably love the most about this module is that it forces the characters to make moral decisions. At some point the players will have to choose whether to side with good, evil, or chaos (neither). Their decisions (like any D&D decision should) determine their enemies, their goals, and to some extent their rewards. What I love about this is that it highlights one of my favorite things about D&D–actions have consequences! However, while the good and evil options are actual viable within the adventure, the chaos track seems randomly thrown in there to provide the characters a third option they shouldn’t actually take (read below).
What Didn’t Work
Chaos Path: While I really appreciated the characters having to choose between good and evil, the chaos just didn’t seem to fit for me. It is the path characters choose when they don’t want to side with either, and it seemed haphazardly added as an after thought. Here’s the problems I have with it:
1) The author himself comments that he hopes no one plays it.
2) It seems like the “cheater” choice: just pick a side already!
3) There’s no clear pay off or plot in for it in these two modules. The author mysteriously hints at something mysterious to come, but it left me feeling disengaged from the path.
4) Everybody hates you. If you want to play the module without any NPC allies and spend most your time fighting, this is the path for you–it is least representative of what, I think, D&D should be like.
5) Choosing something other than Lawful Good or Chaotic Evil doesn’t necessarily make you chaotic… and it might lead to confusion about what exactly the players are suppose to do. In fact, it seemed there was no clear objective for “chaos players” to actually achieve other than just “reaching” certain locations.
Despite its minor flaw, this exceptionally made CCC has a lot to offer–great artwork, excellent and engaging plot encounters–and is a great representation of what D&D should be. I’m giving it 4.5 Stars and tagging it as Highly Recommended. Pick up your copy of both by clicking on the pictures below!