Tuesday, November 30, 2021

REVIEW - Dream House of the Nether Prince

Dream House of the Nether Prince
AD&D level 14+
by Anthony Huso
blog - thebluebard.com
art by Valin Mattheis - website
maps by Tim Hartin - website
buy hardcover and pdf here

Since I read Ben L's review of The Night Wolf Inn and had to get myself a copy, I have followed the exploits of Anthony Huso, one of 1st edition AD&D's most devoted exponents. He has a long series of posts on his blog about his BtB AD&D home game. He makes no apologies for his playstyle and is uninterested in compromising for the mainstream.

Also, he likes Blue Oyster Cult [1]. My kinda guy!

The final adventure in the author's six-year home game, Dream House of the Nether Prince is set inside the abyssal palace of the Demon Prince Orcus. Being a fan of the goat-headed one himself, obviously I had to get my hands on it.

A digression: 

Back in the bad old days of the '90s, we had Planescape. I could never quite get my head around it [2]. The idea of a fantasy-Dickensian London where you run into a demon at a bar, but he's just hanging out drinking a funny-coloured beer, looking for mortals to tempt or selling you Green Steel weapons... it never sat right with me. Just like Twilight did to vampires, Planescape took what should be the most profound manifestations of evil - beings that are truly inhuman in every sense - and watered them down into regular guys with horns & tails.

Huso keeps demons harsh. Dream House begins with The Enchiridion, an 11-page treatise on AD&D demons. This section really showcases his imaginative approach. He takes every hint & clue dropped by Gygax in the core books, extrapolating outwards from there while remaining faithful (as far as I can tell) to the source material. This section covers a huge range of topics ranging from special Abyssal effects to new treasure, demonic transmogrification and more.

Maybe you already have rules for some of these in your game, but The Enchiridion has something worthwhile for everyone. The sections on amulets and summoning are really interesting. The rules are a bit complex in terms of what happens when demons are killed with/without amulets, what happens to the amulets, etc. but they are absolutely Gygaxian: I can see how players interacting with these systems will produce lots of downstream effects that will drive ongoing campaign play. They can see what works and what doesn't, make demonic enemies, strike bargains (successfully or not) or struggle to destroy a demon permanently.

I love the treasure section, always a high point of Huso's work. Gold piece values are provided for an entire economy based on human corpses (the demons eat them) and abyssal larvae. Along with these are exotic trade goods, some new and some from his other adventures like Dam Marmara or ebonwood bars. This kind of variety in treasure keeps things interesting, especially in a high-level adventure that has literally tens of millions of gp for the taking!

A section on abyssal weather, special effects & other hazards adds icing on the Cake of Pain that adventuring in the lower planes is meant to be. Effects range from maddening winds to sulfuric rain, toxic snow, mutations and even earthquakes. All of this should make your players rue the day they ever delved into the Abyss before anyone rolls initiative. 

Planescape this ain't.



Dream House is written for the author's home campaign and no concessions are made to the rest of us. The only hook we get is the following:

"You have obtained the gobbet of mindless immortal flesh, known as the Starfire Neonate. To prevent [a hideous elder god] from ending your world, you must bring the Neonate's imbecile god-flesh into direct contact with [the elder god]. Much like the meeting of a Xag-ya and a Xeg-yi, the event will destroy or [more likely] banish both.

Because the [elder god] inhabits the trackless depths of the Prime Material's cosmic void, the only way to find and reach it, is to use a gate. The only known gate is in the Abyss, and it is located in Orcus' Iron Vauntmure--for the Prince of the Undead doth treat with the [elder god] time to time.

Ergo, the PC's motive is quite simple.

1. Arrive in Pazunia
2. Enter the Iron Fort
3. Find and Open the Gate
4. Force the Starfire Neonate to Touch the [elder god]"

It then goes on to explain that this whole adventure (and maybe your whole campaign!?) is part of an elaborate long-term plot by Orcus. The characters are going to be catspaws in his never-ending war with Demogorgon, whom Orcus hopes to draw out at an opportune moment and defeat for good.

This is totally awesome but rather specific and may not apply to my game or yours. Cool that we get a slice of Huso's totally fucking wild home game, but it would be nice to get a few more readily usable hooks or rumours. Honestly though, if your DMing chops are remotely up to the task of running this adventure you can come up with a reason for the PCs to go there.


The adventure section itself runs 89 pages, spanning 137 rooms over three castle levels and the caverns below. It is crammed with hordes of unflinchingly dangerous monsters and dickish traps. I want to see the character sheets of the party that survived this shitstorm. Did your group squash Acererak and piss in Vecna's eye-hole? Maybe you have a shot at this.

There aren't many rooms of the "let's mess with it and see what happens" type, usually staples in modern OSRland. There is no faction play based on reaction rolls and figuring out what the NPCs want. Dream House is a pounding, ceaseless battery of monsters and traps. Curiosity and fiddling with things is rarely the right move. Many rooms are simply a drain on resources best bypassed or avoided. This adventure demands that the players function at a high level of competence all the way through. Individually some of these encounters may not have too much going on, but the overall effect is powerful and highlights Huso's approach rooted in a deep reading of the DMG and the classic Gygax modules, especially the S series I think.

Notes are provided on monster behaviour in terms of investigating disturbances, guarding areas and chasing foes in the form of small icons next to the monster statblocks. This is a nice shorthand that you will definitely use.

The tunnels below the fortress are called The Warrens of the Prince and they're just a warm up: pit traps into frozen abysses, ghoulification curses, Vrock packs, 14,000 Manes demons and a few really harsh uniques (the 24 HD scarlet beast of revelation!!!). This level is mostly monsters and traps and I felt a lack of interactivity here, although the rooms that do have more going on are very cool. There are a few bangers like the Rag-Man, and the treasure room with possibly every cursed item in the book. 

As the players ascend things get progressively more strange and interesting. The first floor is the Court of Orcus. Here we get another dose of dangerous passive effects. These are generally under-used in modern adventures and it's a shame. Huso does these really well, adding another layer of tactical challenge for characters who are presumably loaded down with tons of game-breaking magic items & spells, without engaging in cheap gimping. The Braziers of Devotion act as gaze attacks that force victims to sacrifice valuable goods in them and Dimensional Ward Stones slay anyone Teleporting into their area of effect (there goes the scry-and-die, oops).

The rooms get more dickish here. Doors that Finger of Death you, illusory walls, 20HD zombie guardians, disintegration pits, mutations, suicide-inducing fear effects, squads of Yochlols and Type VIs. A few no-save screwjobs like the stairs that throw you out into the Deep Astral for 1d10 years. They are sometimes telegraphed, but Huso is also counting on players that are as seasoned as their characters being able to spot dangerous situations.

The rooms also get much cooler, with more weird things to look at and interact with: the Wand of Orcus is kept here, there are weird high-tech machines you can play with, a dangerous game of 'pill-roulette' administered by grotesque eyeless undead bitches, and even one of Tiamat's eggs! Orcus His Damned Self is here on his throne and will address the group if they get close, urging them to ascend further to reach their goal (all part of the plan).

The second floor is the High Temple Prisons, consisting mostly of unique foes that are dangerous in the extreme. There are a few imprisoned folks to be rescued like captured paladins, devas and a solar. The most involved room is a little extradimensional war between Orcus and Tiamat. The PCs can enter, travel around the small hexmap and team up with Orcus' forces to fight packs of ancient chromatic dragons! Yikes.

The top floor is called the Spires of Damnation. This floor is almost all unique enemies, specials and weird stuff including some really nasty combats. You know what you're getting into at this point. 6 Mariliths are killing the Incubus King. A masked demon orgy. A pack of 23 vampires and their mistress, the Duchess of Bats. Sut, the Walking Demon. The Dark Seer. Any one of these would be a battle to cap off someone else's campaign - in Dream House they are packed in cheek by jowl.

Finally, we come to the end. If the PCs can survive Witch Hall, avoid being crushed in the Thighs of the North and reach the Doors of Ultimate Sacrifice - the Prince's Duel begins! Demogorgon appears, and each Demon Prince will speak to the group during a time stop, offering them safe passage, absurd riches and other sweet stuff to side against the other. Once a bargain (if any) is made, battle is joined! The stat blocks for Orcus and Demogorgon run into multiple pages including special abilities, immunities, artifacts and minions. Satan help you trying to run this combat anyway, but I think miniatures would be a necessity. Rules for The Primal Order by Peter Adkison (some kind of supplement for divine & demonic powers I think) are also provided, if you have that book.

After the battle (if anyone survives), the Golden Doors can be approached. They require willing sacrifices to open, just in case you thought the struggle was over. At this point you're saving the world, so that paladin you spent half of a real-life decade building to 15th level? The one who was only a week from retirement? Who had plans of raising sheep on a little farm outside Midwall? He's not gonna make it home.

The Appendices consist of about 25 pages of supplemental material. Sci-fi weapons sit alongside powerful magical artifacts, some new illusion spells, demons & undead. Everything is cool and worth using. A d100 random undead table (references monsters from Dragon and even AD&D modules), gated demons table and some monster statblock summaries are useful references. Finally, the Epilogue offers some helpful advice on running Orcus & Demogorgon and how the fortress reacts to the PCs. 


There you have it. Dream House of the Nether Prince is not perfect, but it is pure. The work of a true disciple of Gygax. It asks for a great deal - few players are ready to face this challenge, perhaps even fewer DMs could run it. Everyone in your group should be seasoned AD&D veterans to even contemplate this. But what heights you'll climb together! The party will either be ground up by the numberless, ravening hordes of the Abyss - or win through after tremendous battle and sacrifice to see a Demon Prince destroyed and the world saved. This is what D&D is all about.

Good: Grand, ambitious, epic, unique. Beautiful artwork. Great supplemental sections. Insanely lethal. High-level AD&D the way God and Gary intended.

Bad: Big-ass stat blocks. Heavily combat-focused. Can be tough to scan due to the amount of information. Refers back to other material you may not own. A niche product in multiple ways. Insanely lethal. 

9/10 Demon Princes

The book has a credits section, playtesters aren't listed, although you can go read about the final session on Huso's blog.


[1] - I had owned the Night Wolf Inn for a year, and then listened to Secret Treaties again. Give it a try.

[2] - Even though Planescape: Torment is probably the best computer RPG ever made, Balance In All Things, Amen.

Now some Abyssal music to play us out:

Thursday, November 25, 2021

REVIEW - Trilemma Adventures Compendium: a friend in need...

Trilemma Adventures Compendium
by Michael Prescott & others
published by Trilemma Adventures
print & pdf here

One-page dungeons. We know them, we have mixed feelings on them. The contest has been around for over a decade, producing mostly unplayable garbage and a few nice-looking maps (which are also unplayable). Can the format be done well?

Since 2014, Michael Prescott has been creating one- and two-page dungeons, beautifully rendered with his own black & white drawings. All of these adventures are up on his blog in pdf format FOR FREE[1]. In 2019, he launched a kickstarter to release them in a hardcover collection. In my usual fashion I totally missed backing it, but managed to buy one of the surplus copies after the campaign finished. Now that I've had a chance to run a handful I can offer a decent review.

Firstly this is a lovely volume. Heavy-duty covers with a great texture like a nice old book (what is this material called?). I don't fear the consequences of stuffing this in my bag to bring it to game night. Silver foil text, one of those soft red fabric bookmarks, nice thick glossy paper. Every spread has beautiful isometric maps and illustrations by Prescott or occasionally a guest artist. All the artwork fits together remarkably well, the book has a consistent look throughout. Formatting and layout are simple and well done, using bolding and a bit of colour to highlight relevant details. The whole aesthetic is simple & clear, distinctive while focusing on readability.

"Okay so far" you ask, "but you did say system neutral one-page dungeons? Can these be any good?"
To be fair: six are actually a single page [2], most are two pages and a handful are three or four. 

What these adventures do very well is present interesting & imaginative situations. A disused healing shrine inhabited by giant spiders who are curious about humans. An evil wizard imprisoned by an aging, weakened order of knights, desperate to recruit new members. A ruined tower that grants wishes using a complicated ritual of numbered rooms. Almost every adventure has a weird & cool premise (sometimes excessively so - we will return to this idea later). They are poised on the edge, ready for the PCs to show up and knock things around. Prescott consistently creates these dynamic areas, packed with potential energy for adventure. They jump into the reader's mind, leaving him with that familiar but elusive "I can't wait to run this!" feeling.

There are no +1 swords or giant rats. Almost everything is new and strange. The adventures are written with a certain type of OSR mentality the reader will probably recognize - a B/Xian perspective familiar if you read blogs like Goblin Punch, Against the Wicked City & similar. I would say in terms of pure creativity, Trilemma is up there with the most interesting material I've seen from this corner of OSRdom.

The adventures are of course small, and this is a problem - the largest about 20ish keyed areas, and most hover around 6-10. This limits the scope of action. You can't have much of a dungeon-crawling experience here. This is one of the key complaints with one-page dungeons. Although Prescott's are some of the best in the format, they contain more potential adventure than they do adventure - the DM must still provide a fair bit of the latter. It might be better to view most as detailed hexcrawl locations, dungeon sublevels or even just adventure seeds.

Although they make for minimal dungeoncrawling or exploratory experiences in themselves, these adventures serve well - at least they have in my games. Because they are so dense with ideas, they colour the campaign world around them. I ran The Moon is a Mirror for my group over the course of two sessions, but it sent the campaign in a completely new direction - we are still dealing with the effects a year or so later. This is exactly the kind of thing I crave as a DM, don't you?

Fuck man, The Cleft of Five Worlds could be a two-page brief for an entire underdark campaign setting! Each paragraph is like a hex description of a dungeon I want to play in and it's tied together with a bit of history and overarching relationships. Of course if you wanted to run it, all your work is still in front of you. Ultimately, the Trilemma Compendium gives the lie to the idea that one-page dungeons are something you just 'pick up and play' - I have never been able to do that with these adventures.

The monsters are quite a highlight. There are five or six standard "by the book" monsters but everything else is new and almost all are great: the implacable Brass Soldiers, bloodthirsty Chitin Drakes, Cave Stitchers, Lantern Worms, Moon Babies and tons more. Some are a new spin on and old concept, like the Avatar of Suvuvena (basically a CIFAL from the Fiend Folio). Some new humanoid races are included like the Dradkin (kinda sorta like dark elves), the Heelan (reptilian desert-dwellers) and several more. All the monsters fit together remarkably well, combining into a whole bestiary with a unified tone and feel. You could pick and choose, but looking at them all gives the reader a clear impression of the Trilemma world.

This is expanded upon in the appendices, which develop a setting for all the adventures to live in. Sections for monster descriptions (no statistics, but more detail on ecology, special abilities & such), magic items, maps, history and a guide to the Trilemma world.

The world guide is hard to read. The relentless newness of everything, which works fantastically in a one-pager (since I'm looking for a density of ideas) actually works against the Compendium here. It is hard to grasp because there are so few familiar touchstones to latch onto. It washes over the reader in an undifferentiated stream. Or at least it did for me - maybe I just have trouble with all the names.

The Trilemma world would also require a great deal of DM work to use. For instance, I cannot find a scale on the world map! I wonder if it would have been better to leave it as something just implied by the adventures themselves? I have my suspicions, but would love to know for sure whether I'm seeing Prescott's home game world or something he created after the fact to tie his adventures together.

The section on hooks, rumours & lore is great. Every adventure gets a set of 9 rumours and it all goes in a huge d1000 table. The table format is probably unnecessary - I assume you are going to hand-pick which of these adventures you're using - but the rumours and lore themselves are good, and I like that Prescott considered this element.

The system-neutral thing might turn some people off, but Prescott has your back, kinda - after the Kickstarter, he published a bestiary book providing monster stats for B/X which covers most of the creatures you will encounter in the Compendium adventures. Of course if you're playing B/X, you can probably eyeball stats for most of these guys - but it never hurts to have another monster book, and most of them are really cool anyway. Get it in pdf if you want to save money.

How to use this?

I recommend picking out a handful of adventures you like. Use some as hexcrawl locations, dropping them into your campaign map exactly as-is. Use your favourites as more significant locations: put some work into expanding them, add some more rooms based on the existing themes or graft them on to an existing location. Connect them to other areas of your game world. Maybe the reason I like this book so much is that it fits quite well into how I create my own campaigns. I don't mind that these adventures are small, really - what I crave is density of ideas, and the Trilemma Compendium has that in spades.

There are 49 adventures in this book. I would use all but a handful based on merit alone. I have run three so far in my home games, and placed ten or twelve more around my campaign setting. I look forward to the players finding them!

You could use this as an entire Trilemma Campaign. It would have a very specific flavour - short dungeons, lots of hopping around. I think it would suit a certain type of player group. It would lack the depth and exploratory elements of classic play without extensive additional work.

The Good: Gorgeous production, lovely artwork, highly imaginative, a new & distinctive flavour of D&D. Sweet monsters and magic items. Plenty of interactivity. Huge ideas-to-page-count ratio. The best tiny adventures you're likely to find. It has provided me hours of fun and I anticipate more of the same.

The Bad: Familiar one-pager flaws: limited scope, require DM investment & energy to fully realize. The gazetteer section is of limited utility. Filthy system-neutrality. Too strange to use all the time.

6/10 Minions of Sorg

The book has an extensive credits section, including playtesters.


[1] - Rendering my review somewhat pointless. Just go look and see if you like them. 

[2] - I'm just going to say 'one-pagers' for the duration of this review, to save space.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

[Play Report] Land's End II, Session 1 - Jailbreak!

Unknown in-game date


Iron-In-Blood, Lizardfolk
Heka, Wildman
Floros, Human
Xenia, Planetouched
Pale-Heart, Lizardfolk
Duul, Wildman
Pallas, Human
Vorvou, Chthonic Elf
Agàta, Human
Kazik, Human
Dimemnu, Chthonic Elf
Gold-Foot, Lizardfolk
Hafza, Wildman


Life in the mountains digging obsidian for the lizardfolk is the same every day: Get up early. Dig up the glass. Get beat by the overseers. Go to sleep and do it all again. 

The slaves tell each other stories to pass the time, dreaming of escape to ZEMPHAS, the Lost City of Silver, where no being is made to serve another. One old warm-blood named Agàta said he heard of it from another who had actually been there - he described the argent towers, brass domes that blaze in the sunset and ethereal bells that ring through the city at dawn. He said it lies past mountains, jungle and desert on a vast blue ocean. It seems an impossible distance away.

One day, something changed:

Most obsidian mines are open-air trenches, but then a cave is found with veins of the black & green stuff running through it. The tunnels are deep cracks in the mountain, webbing out in every direction. The overseers sent groups down to extract more obsidian for the Black Wings’ war efforts and to enrich their warchief above all others in the Drowned Lands. 

The nightmares began soon after. Every time it was the same: 

…Horns ring out from the mountaintops. Strange constellations glitter, lighting an unknown earth. Floating in icy water, black and still. The taste of hot blood. The touch of fine-grained stone, cold and damp. Whistling music in the firelight. And voices echoing in a vast, timeless, frozen darkness… 

They persisted for weeks. One slave choked on his own tongue during the night and everyone else was terrified. The overseers & guards stopped going into the tunnels, since only those who work down there get nightmares. 

One day, Agàta made his rounds at mealtime. He was tired & sickly, the nightmares taking their toll on even his mighty frame. He spoke briefly, only to those who worked underground: 

“We’re getting out of here. Tomorrow. Tell only those you trust, ten or twelve at most. Spread the word tonight. They’ll never catch us. I’ve found a way out… down below!”


At the beginning of the workday the group followed Agàta down into the obsidian tunnels, trusting in his vague plan of an escape route. Each one knew they had until nightfall to get as far as they could before the overseers expected them back. Equipped only with stone picks, leather sacks & lumps of coal for light, they crept through dark tunnels deep within the earth, venturing farther and deeper into the mountains than they ever had before - until Agàta indicated a narrow crawlspace.

"Smell that? Bat guano. We've never seen bats fly through these caves, so there must be a way to the surface through there! And look what else I found!"

Agàta showed the group two strange relics: a chunk of yellow metal with writing on it, and an oddly-shaped... key?... with a glowing orange gemstone in the handle.

"Look at the lettering... this could be from Zemphas itself!"

Treasures? Clues? Relics?

Crawling through the narrow passageway, their backs scraped by the razor-sharp rock, the stench of guano got steadily stronger. The slaves emerged into a pool of the foul stuff, hearing the twittering and fidgeting of thousands of bats above their heads. Their faint coal braziers barely illuminated several narrow tunnels exiting the cavern.

"I've an idea," said Vorvou. "Let's disturb the bats, and see which way they fly!" 

The group assented to this plan, covering their lights while the two chthonic elves used their unnatural cave-adapted eyes to watch the bats. Throwing a few rocks caused the flock to exit to the left, but a few of the bats had a thirst - with a shriek, Vorvou was set upon by a few and his blood was drained in an instant! The rest of the group covered their heads with their leather sacks and hid at the bottom of the cavern, luckily avoiding the vampire bats' attention.

Following the flock of bats took the group to a narrow chimney they couldn't climb. Well, so much for that plan. Unwilling to backtrack towards servitude, the party continued their exploration of this hostile & bizarre cave. They came upon a vast underground lake that stretched into darkness, the only sound a distant drip of water. A narrow ledge stretched along the lake's edge, but nobody dared chance the crumbling stonework so they moved on.

Climbing upwards they found a glistening, iridescent trail of slime on the ground that led them to a room with a huge rainbow snail-shell. Assuming this was the territory of some bizarre invertebrate, they hurried onwards. They passed a room with a black handprint burned into the wall but decided not to investigate.

At the shores of a cold and swift river they disturbed a school of ravenous piranhas who leapt out of the water in hungry pursuit! The group made a terrible tactical mistake, which luckily didn't work out too badly - they fled forwards into unknown territory pursued by the hopping, gnashing school of fish. 

They ran down a narrow tunnel and broke into a round room of worked stone. A pattern of stars was carved on the ceiling, and an ancient stone bed lay to one side. A layer of scented dust covered every surface. 

Thinking quickly, the slaves jammed the old bed against the crack in the wall - the tiny land-piranhas couldn't jump over it and gave up pursuit, retreating to the river. Behind the bed was an old brass tablet with obscure markings, which the group took.

The slaves pressed on through this constructed area. They entered a rectangular room covered in carvings showing a robed humanoid figure floating or flying through a field of constellations. In a small alcove guarded by an ancient, collapsed pit-trap they found a purplish crystal skull (definitely not human) that looked valuable and three tiny metal cylinders with threaded ends, glowing with a faint reddish light.

In another domed room smelling of old incense and dust, they found a metallic skullcap with a cluster of silvery filaments extending outwards from it in intricate, twisting patterns. Nobody was willing to try it on, so they took it for later.

Then they entered the Room of Stars. Seeming to float in the void of space, the group could barely navigate the room without falling over it was so disorienting. As the approached the back alcove, the stars shifted along the walls, coalescing into a glowing doorway of light. Nervously, Agàta reached out to open it and the group entered.

The deep obsidian caverns

The group found themselves in a narrow hallway of worked stone, leading to a small room with four bronze statues of spearmen, ready to throw. Entering the room cautiously, the inevitable happened: the statutes animated, hurling their spears towards the group! Everyone tried to duck, but Hafza the wildman was too slow and was impaled.

The statues didn't seem to present further danger after this, and the group took up the finely-crafted spears for themselves. 

The next room was a large chamber with a huge statue in the center of a robed man holding a tablet in one hand, while his other pointed imperiously forward. Three other doors were visible. Gold-Foot and Agàta entered, noticing that the statue swiveled on its base, continuing to point at them wherever they roamed in the room. Nervous about this, they tried to leave when blasts of fire issued from the statue's finger! Gold-Foot was burned to a crisp while everyone else ducked for cover.

When the jets of flame ceased, they heard only triumphant crowing: "Hah! Stupid magic statue, you think you can get the best of me?" Proving himself a tough old man once more, Agàta had survived another scrape.

It seemed the statue had exhausted its magic and the rest of the slaves contemplated their next move: three doors presented themselves, but this area was obviously quite dangerous. What to do?


And so it begins! 

A brand new in-person Land's End game with a very small group! "Season 2" is set a little ways off from the original Land's End theatre of action. It maintains a handful of connections to the original (the Black Wings lizardfolk and their slaving ways, for example) but with a slightly different focus. 

Follow along with us as we uncover more mysteries, explore more snake-men tombs, and get trench foot in the jungle again! We begin on the right footing by killing a handful of PCs in this introductory funnel. I've always wanted to run a "no equipment, no abilities" adventure, a trope that's been floating around forever but fits Land's End quite well - a setting where even established adventurers struggle to find decent gear! 

Some readers may recognize the first few rooms of the Dungeon Crawl Classics 0-level funnel "The Door Beneath The Stars," which has been modified a little bit to fit the setting.