Free RPG Day Review #5: Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock
The inaugural Free RPG Day was held on Saturday June 23rd in the USA and Saturday 21st July in the UK. Its aim was to bring gamers and potential customers into their local games store by making available a number of free mini supplements kindly provided by the publishers. Each is intended to introduce and showcase a particular RPG or range of supplements, either already available or forthcoming. The purpose here is to review as many of the following as possible in a series of mini-reviews, taking into consideration how well each stands on its own, how good each serves as an introduction or prequel to another fuller product, how well it stands up as Free RPG Day product, and just how good it is in general.
I have access to the following items, for which I would like to thank Roj at Wayland's Forge:
- GamesMastery Module D0: Hollow's Last Hope
- DCC #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock
- Wicked Fantasy Module #0: Temple of Blood
- Tunnels & Trolls Quick-Start Rules
- Mutants & Masterminds Beginner's Guide: Quick-Start
- Castles & Crusades Fantasy Role Playing Game Quick Start Rules
- Dungeonbattle Brooklyn for Xcrawl
- Changling: the Lost -- Free Rules and Adventure
- Little Boy Lost for In Dark Alleys
- Call of Cthulhu Quickstart Rules
- The Pig, the Witch and her Lover -- Free Adventure for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
- Flashpak for Cyberpunk 3.0*
- The Rifter #38*
- Return to the Tomb of the Five Corners*
- GURPS Lite Fourth Edition*
- Scion: the Hero*
These do not constitute the full list of items available on Free RPG Day. There were some items that I was not able to get hold of and there cannot offer a full review.
* To be fair although I have a copy of The Rifter which was given away on the day, both time and personal prejudice will probably prevent me from giving a fair review. I declined a copy of the Flashpak for Cyberpunk 3.0 as I did not think that I could do a fair review of it following the extremely unfavourable review I had to give Cyberpunk 3.0 elsewhere. Similarly, Return to the Tomb of the Five Corners, GURPS Lite Fourth Edition, and Scion: the Hero have been covered elsewhere in detail, though all do a decent job of introducing their respective games.
Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock is a second offering from Goodman Games for the inaugural Free RPG Day that is primarily two things. First it is a free taster for the Dungeon Crawl Classics line, much in the vein of the publisher’s “$2 Dungeons” -- Dungeon Crawl Classics #11: The Dragonfiend Pact and Dungeon Crawl Classics #31: The Transmuter’s Last Touch, which Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock has joined since being made available for Free RPG Day. Second, it is a teaser and a lead-in for another title, Dungeon Crawl Classics #51: Castle Whiterock, which is not just another module, but a boxed set detailing a campaign that takes the characters from 1st to 15th level. So technically, it should be entitled “DCC #50.5” or “DCC #51-5,” but that is just pedantry.
Each module in the Dungeon Crawl Classics line (of which there are now over fifty!) sets out to present an old style dungeon using the current version of Dungeons & Dragons. What this means is that you get a ready made underground complex for your players to explore, filled with puzzles to solve, traps to disarm, creatures to butcher, and their loot to, well, loot. There will be a minimum of back-story, essentially enough to get the dungeoneers inside, but little or nothing in the way of plot. The look, the feel, the art all apes the original modules published by TSR for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition, right down to the blue and white maps inside the front and back cover. Indeed, the very title of Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock is a nod to a classic scenario, U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, though in comparison this more modern take on the dungeon is a more simple, less sophisticated affair.
As part of the Dungeon Crawl Classics line, Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock includes an indication of the adventure’s location (and also that of Dungeon Crawl Classics #51: Castle Whiterock) in the world of Áereth, as described in Dungeon Crawl Classics #35: Gazetteer of the Known Realms. That this is done on the back cover before being expanded upon inside is a nice touch. Otherwise, Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock is world neutral. Also included is a full list of further adventures should a DM want to run a sequel beyond Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock and Dungeon Crawl Classics #51: Castle Whiterock.
Designed for a party of four to six characters of 1st to 3rd level, Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock is set beneath the Ul Duminor mountains, near the town of Cillamar. A missing local boy, rumours of a wandering owlbear, or family tales of a missing Dwarf or Gnome ancestor bring the adventurers to an ancient standing stone, the entrance to the dungeon. Below is a twelve room complex populated by rats and spiders, the aforementioned owlbear, and the module’s new monster, the Sih’hel, a race of degenerate Gnomes twisted by an eldritch crystal. The adventure should provide a single session’s gaming, not necessarily a difficult one for experienced players, but those new to the dungeon bash style will have a harder time. If anyone wishes to keep playing, the dungeon includes an entrance and a map to Castle Whiterock. This is where Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock acts as a taster to Dungeon Crawl Classics #51: Castle Whiterock.
The module does come with two small issues that irk. The first is the advertising for Gamescience odd shaped dice. The wandering tables in Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock make use of the five-sided die, which is of course only available from Gamescience. A five-sided die? Surely that is the ten-sided die, the result of the roll halved? The second is that the module does devote a lot of its space to explaining the Dungeon Crawl Classics metier, which every entry in the line does of course, but in a 16-page booklet, it does take up comparatively more space. Then again, explaining this is the point of making the module available on Free RPG Day.
Overall, Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock is not as enjoyable as the earlier $2 Dungeons, in part because it is focused on getting everything and everyone set up to continue play Dungeon Crawl Classics #51: Castle Whiterock. Yet with over fifty titles behind it, it is no surprise that Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock is an assured affair that successfully carries out the publisher’s intentions. Since being made available for Free RPG Day, Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock has been re-released as a $2 Dungeon.
Highs: A complete adventure that acts as both an introduction to the series and a taster to another module.
Lows: Few and minor, but nothing that will impede the play of this module.
Overall: There might be better $2 dungeons, but Dungeon Crawl Classics #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock is a worthwhile evening’s entertainment.
For Free RPG Day: Another pleasingly well done introduction to both a game line and an individual product that also highlights an aspect of the hobby, the old style dungeon bash.