Welcome back to The Independents, your source for reviews of out-of-the-box tabletop roleplaying games. The small outfits, the crazy geniuses, the little projects, the ‘Indie’ creators who are simply out to make a name for themselves and a game people can enjoy. Here at The Independents we aim to highlight some of these games, for a change of pace and a new (and great) experience!
Your heroes arrive at the bottom of the stairs and gaze out across a giant cavern. On the other side is the palace of Arawyn, the Lich Queen of Paxectal, the target of your quest. You are here to bring her reign to an end, to halt her devouring of souls. But it will not be a simple walk to the great building. The cavern floor is covered in seething energy and shifting images, each a window into a different realm. The only way to the palace is to go through them, stumbling from world to world, hoping you can survive whatever awaits within each. And beyond them the palace itself must still be overcome, along with its half-mad ruler.
Dawn is rising in the realms, and you have an appointment with undead royalty. Take your first step.
Not every game that will be featured on The Independents will be like Amidst Endless Quiet or Psi*Run, with a world and a system built from scratch. Not even all of the exceptions will be like Night Witches, adapting a Creative Commons system. Some of the small outfits will instead be taking advantage of the Open Gaming License and the like to look at what the big players have been doing, aiming to use well-tested and well-loved rules to still do something new. That is exactly what has happened with Dungeonlands: Palace of the Lich Queen for Pathfinder, brought to us by the ENnie-winning and Origins-nominated Savage Mojo!
This adventure takes place in a setting called the Suzerain Continuum, a multiverse-like setting of a wide variety of realms that don’t limit themselves to a single genre or tech level. I was fortunate enough to have my questions about Suzerain and Palace answered by George ‘Loki’ Williams, Savage Mojo’s Community Manager and Lead Pathfinder Developer, and Suzerain itself was the first thing we addressed.
“Suzerain has been an award winning setting for Savage Worlds for years. It’s a high-octane, multi-genre setting. That is what drew me to it. I’ve been a manager on Planewalker, the official Planescape fansite, for eleven years. My love of plane-hopping, fantasy space, and genre mixing is fairly obvious,” he wrote. “Suzerain gives a neat and logical framework for jumping realities, something made much easier for us by the fantastic work Paizo has done on their technology rules I might add. ”
“Your heroes basically play emissaries of the Gods. They are sent to flashpoint areas throughout the Continuum to handle issues the Gods cannot get directly involved in. This means that literally anything is on the table for GMs. Want a cyberpunk interlude? Do it! Want to explore the extremes of high fantasy? The fact that Ray Vallese from the original Planescape team compared it to Planescape is telling. Rich stories, epic quests, and an infinite palate are the elements Suzerain brings to the table.”
The sheer variety of realmscapes, which total 27, that the players are going to be hurtling through is nearly mind-boggling. Planescape’s Lady of Pain, on her meanest day, might be hard-pressed to build a more nefarious interplanar maze. The party can find themselves fighting far-future versions of Greek monsters in one realm before fleeing from a vampire horde in cyberpunk Hong Kong the next, only to burst through a door to run right into a land of fair folk and steampunk technology before finding themselves running afoul of oni-possessed schoolgirls once they turn the wrong corner. Some of these realmscapes are featured in other Suzerain Continuum books although they are Savage Worlds books. Still, according to Williams they “Have a ton of extra background, history, fluff as they call it. Don’t count them completely out as a resource even though the game system is a different one.”
As mentioned above, Suzerain started off as a Savage Worlds setting, and Palace is only the fourth full product that Savage Mojo has produced for Pathfinder. As I was only looking at the Pathfinder version, I asked Williams about the challenges and differences between designing the same adventure for two systems.
“I really like the process for this,” he replied. “The writers create the story and art is then produced to go with it. At that point the document goes out to the Savage Worlds designers and to my team. Each group creates from scratch, based on the text. That way we don’t hobble one rules system by trying to emulate the mechanics of another.”
The only difference, he went on to explain, was the heaviness of the rules. The Pathfinder version is a larger book, clocking in at about 220 pages, and that has everything to do with Pathfinder being a rules-heavy game. Savage World, on the other hand, is rules-light and thus the smaller of the two versions. Williams did hold to the idea, however, that while each version might have a slightly different feel they would both provide a satisfying gaming experience.
Satisfying, but deadly! If the frantic pace of moving from realm to realm did not convey the danger your demigods will face, then the actual palace will definitely get the point across. It consists of eight Halls, each providing unique challenges; the Lich Queen has filled each with a powerful ally, servant, or slave, none of whom are pushovers and all of whom are surrounded by a Hall catering to their strengths. It shouldn’t take a genius group of players to realize that the Hall of Pain is likely to be unpleasant, for example, especially when it’s described as “part murder castle”. Even the Halls with nicer-sounding names are dangerous, and it all culminates with the fight against the Lich Queen herself. If the demigods have fought well and smart throughout the adventure then they might be able to win in a straight fight; if not, then the allies Arawyn can bring to the fight turn it into an assassination, where the party has to use knowledge and items they’ve gathered to kill her before they’re slaughtered in turn. If this sounds difficult, it certainly looks like it on paper. I asked Williams about Savage Mojo designing the adventure to be so challenging.
“Those decisions were made before I took over the team. I think it’s safe to say that this is where the setting’s roots in Savage Worlds show through. Much more of a rollicking, old school feel coupled with the modern game systems. Admittedly, most of those on the team have been gamers since the ’70s or ’80s so I’d have to say that played a part. When the project was described to me originally it was explicitly stated that the objective was to follow in the footsteps of TSR’s “S Series” of modules as far as feel and danger levels were concerned.”
Palace of the Lich Queen is actually the third part of a trilogy. If your group follows the entire story, then your characters have already fought through the Tomb of the Lich Queen and the Machine of the Lich Queen, and might have even played the Consort of the Lich Queen side adventure. Some published adventures that are part of a series can be played individually, so I asked Williams about whether or not Palace could stand on its own apart from the trilogy.
“I think the only way to see the full tapestry is to grab all three. That said, if you’re only grabbing one to start off with then Palace is the one to grab. Especially if multi-genre mayhem is what you’re after.”
Williams credited the book’s (admittedly limited) ability to stand alone, along with its high quality, to the design team he was able to put together for this final entry, which ends up being an impressive list of names:
“Brendan LaSalle, creator of X Crawl, Richard Moore from Jon Brazer Enterprises, Matt Mediros who has worked for Dreamscarred Press and Flying Pincusion Games, Andrew Hoskins (our trapmaster!) also from Flying Pincusion, and two new designers getting their first bylines: Allan Hoffman and Monte Reed.”
I went on to ask Williams what his favorite part of the entire process was. The answer was more or less what you want to hear from any creator: the sheer enthusiasm behind the work.
“My favorite part? Watching my team come together and go nuts on the project,” he explained. ” Watching people call dibbs on the chapters they were really passionate about was a lot of fun, and that passion fueled one of the most amazing book projects I’ve worked on. I remember one of the designers literally bouncing with joy when I told him, “Yes, you can make that a kaiju.”
“That’s the thing about passion, it bears the most amazing fruit. As each chapter came in I was constantly astounded by the craftsmanship and palpable enthusiasm that went into this book. We all shared the common view that we were working on something extraordinary and taking Pathfinder into places it has not yet explored. The fact that we were on a murderously tight deadline also added a level of adrenaline that I think comes through in the encounters themselves. ”
Parting words from Williams?
“I hope people play it and that by doing so end up with tales they will tell for years to come! I can’t wait to start getting feedback from groups playing it. There really is no greater feeling than knowing people are having fun with our stuff!”
Need something new and original for your Pathfinder game? Find the concept of being hurled through the multiverse only to hunt a powerful lich through her palace appealing? Feel like proving yourself as an adventurer who can take on a real challenge? Then take a look at Palace of the Lich Queen from Savage Mojo, and try not to get lost in the realms! The PDF is currently available in the Savage Mojo store for $17.49 as of this writing.
Become a god . . . or a corpse!
Originally Posted 5/20/15 on the Mad Adventurers Society!