Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review: Intrigue at the Court of Chaos (DCC RPG)

Intrigue at the Court of Chaos is a level 1 adventure published by Goodman Games written by +Michael Curtis. The premise is that the heroes are summoned against their will to answer the call of the five members of the Court of Chaos. These five beings are alien horrors bent on getting their hands on the Yokeless Egg, a spark of primal chaos that could be used as a boon to help sway the everlasting conflict between chaos and law in their favor. They need the PCs to go after it because they themselves would rendered helpless on the Plane of Law where it is kept.

Cover art by Doug Kovacs

One of the things I love about DCC is the cosmic weirdness of the adventures. A group of level 1 characters, who all probably just survived by the skin of their teeth through a funnel, are being asked to traipse through the planes and deal with the forces of chaos and law? That's something I haven't seen modules written for level 20 characters take on. I suspect the reason for this is that it is an incredibly difficult undertaking to pull off in a satisfying way.

The introduction to the Court is quite fun, as each of the Chaos Lords has a very unique look and the GM is given some illustrative player handouts to help make them come to life. Goodman Games always does a great job with the handouts they include in their adventures. For this one they include printouts of each member of the Court of Chaos. One half of the page has an illustration of the character and the other has important information about them for the judge's eyes only. I printed mine out on cardstock and laid them all out as they are arranged in the chamber.


A great feature of this adventure is the inter-party conflict that it intentionally breeds. Each member of the court has ulterior motives and will try to make deals with PC characters individually to deliver the Yokeless Egg to them personally. As players are being pulled out of the room to receive their individual summons, everyone starts to get a little paranoid about who might actually betray the party in favor of fantastical powers and legendary artifacts.

Any judge looking to run this adventure will probably want to know the preferences of the party beforehand. Inter-party shenanigans is welcomed and enjoyed at my table, but I could see some people getting upset with the intentional wedge being driven into the party. It makes for good storytelling with the right folks, but might make others pull their hair out. To each their own.

The main adventure takes place on the Plane of Law where the PCs must infiltrate the Cataphract; a floating diamond like structure that holds the Yokeless Egg. The dungeon itself is a well-balanced mix of puzzles and combat encounters. All of the chambers must be explored as passing their trials is essential to accessing the final level where the Egg can be found. This is quite satisfying since there are many modules where your players will only see a fraction of what is inside due to the many routes they may take to get to the conclusion.

The trials in the Cataphract are great breeding grounds for roleplaying. Each one follows a theme: creation, construction, enlightenment, judgment and sacrifice. When I ran this module, something significant happened in each of the rooms that illustrated a quirk of a character or helped the players add details to their personality. This is the display of good design in a roleplaying game.

Once again, you get the awesomely illustrated map by Doug Kovacs that does a superb job of helping to communicate the feel and personality of the location. I often find myself just looking at the map to describe what is going on inside rather than the block text. I can never say enough good things about this style of map design.



The final encounter is a very interesting and carries a high risk of defeat. The module seems to acknowledge this as it creates an alternative to death if the PCs fail their objective; anyone who has read my How to Defeat Your Party (Without Killing Them) posts know how I feel about party wipes ending the game. In fact, this situation happened with the crew I ran it with and now they are diligently trying to earn their freedom from the Scions of Law by thwarting plots concocted by the agents of Chaos against the Known Realms.

Barring this scenario, the return to the Court of Chaos is sure to be a high tension affair. Everyone will be wondering who might try to betray the party and go into business for themselves. The module lays out multiple endings that may transpire depending on the choices of the party. It seems safe to say no two tables will have exactly the same experience with this adventure.

Conclusion

This module is a perfect balance of roleplay, puzzles and combat encounters. The interactive setup to this module gives the players plenty of opportunities to ask questions, consult with one another about the course of action they should take and, of course, be propositioned by the Court of Chaos. The paranoia set in the first act breeds exactly the kind of unpredictability the Court of Chaos would delight in. Inter-party conflict is a tough thing to integrate into an adventure intentionally, but the way it is handled in Intrigue at the Court of Chaos is quite clever. Given that many of the Goodman Games DCC line of adventures deal in themes of chaos and law, this adventure is a perfect starting point to set up a longer term campaign with a common theme.

That being said, make sure you know the people at the table prior to running this module. I could foresee significant problems if you tried to run it at a game day at your FLGS with people who are unacquainted with each other. Everyone needs to buy-in to the conceit of the adventure to make it fun.

You can order the softcover book from Goodman Games for $9.99 or get the pdf for $6.99.

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