The Beast of Karridan’s Hollow
This review originally appeared on rpg.net in January 2012 and is reprinted here and in the August 2015 issue with permission.
The Beast of Karridan’s Hollow. Phillip Larwood, Michael J. Cross
Terra/Sol Games http://www.terrasolgames.com
The Beast of Karridan’s Hollow is an adventure for use with Terra/Sol Games’ Traveller product Netherell and will require both the Netherell sourcebook and Traveller Main Rulebook to play correctly. Referees without either one can wing it, but it would suffer from lacking the richness that both of those two volumes bring. For those that are not in the know… Netherell is Terra/Sol’s fantasy/magic supplement for the Mongoose Traveller RPG; therefore, it is very hard to place this product as either Science Fiction, Science Fantasy or Fantasy, but I think I will stick with fantasy as that is what the publishers have placed under the title… while not Epic, it certainly is memorable and does not hesitate in using the background previously presented.
But, as is always the case of such adventures, the introduction of fantasy characters to a science fiction milieu (although the game does allow for Galactics to take on the role of lower TL characters) is always fraught with danger of clichés seeping into the work. For sure, there are clichés but not the ones that you might expect; instead what you have is an intelligent adventure that emphasizes many aspects of Netherell without being too preachy or drag on the storyline.
The story involves tracking down bandits who have befriended an Ogre and dealing with the threat that the Ogre presents to a small village in exchange for 300 gold coins. Ogres on this planet translate into nasty brutes transformed by their exposure to “magical” energies (yes, Mutants by any other name). This Ogre also has a stick that can shoot fire and set things ablaze (yes, High Tech weaponry by any other name). This adventure deals with the tracking down and solving of the mystery of the Ogre. What it lacks of actual classic fantasy adventure, e.g., dungeon delving (although, to be fair this is a “Wilderness” adventure), it makes up for in the richness of the encounters. So, I am glad that Terra/Sol did not opt for the clichés of exploring dark, damp holes in the ground, especially ones underneath a lake (one day I will share that adventure. All I will say… don’t open Door#3 when there seems to be water leaking in). The adventure offers several possible outcomes, each with its own particular reward or punishment.
The adventure is sufficiently freeform enough to allow players a wide breadth of play yet the fact that they are constrained to the parish of Karridan’s Hollow keeps it tight enough. Now, I don’t generally play fantasy games (turned off by that whole 2e rules revision that even caused me not to play Runequest) but I have still followed developments in fantasy gaming. I would say this represents a superior form of play, for there are enough dynamic interactions and speeches of various NPCs laid out, ample opportunity for smashing and stealing stuff and a worthy monster waiting at the end. However, it is laid out like a fairy tale hence probably the appropriation of the adjective “epic”… as it conjures something that is timeless and also origins lost in the mists of time. I liked that play was well grounded in Netherell, rather than using setting as just mere colourings, as in (for example),
DM: “We need an evil minion…. ok, you encounter a High Priest from uhh… Iuz”
Player 1: “But we killed Iuz in the last adventure…”
DM: “Ok, then, Horned Society… so this Iuz Priest, I mean Horned Society cultist begins to mutter something like a prayer…
Here, instead, the NPCs and encounters are well keyed into the Netherell supplement… so yes, if you do not have it, you can wing it, but you certainly will lose some of the essence of the story. Which gives the feeling that this adventure was thoroughly playtested and played not simply written, for too many designers these days have forgotten the essence of play when they make their products and just insert things because it seemed “cool”. The adventure is a bit on the short side, which is ok if you were planning this as a one-shot, but it would require familiarity with Netherell which is where a Player’s Guide to Netherell (if one existed) would be handy. The shortness made me think that it was meant to be tacked on as an appendix to the main book, but shortness is good for those with busy lives. But with shortness also comes cuts; one of those cuts, is the absence of pregens – although, part of the “joy” of gaming is to generate characters and then take them on personal adventures… I see that and acknowledge that but for it to be a true one-shot, it is easier for it just run right out of the box… so I would have not minded the inclusion of some pregens, as I know within my gaming circles, there is no time to go through chargen, we come to play and pregens are one way of getting the game up and running. So, if it does migrate to print, hopefully we might see the inclusion of pregens… or at least make them available on the website.
The writing is logical and business-like, as it describes the various encounters and background – otherwise there are no wasted words (save the needed OGL taking up two pages) and really gets you into Netherell. I found the restriction of the players to the parish of Karridan’s Hollow not at all indicative of railroad play but more about investigation and probing and because it is a wilderness adventure, it included maps. And, that is where I have a beef, that if it is going to deadtree, the map has to reproduced as a player’s aid at the back of the book or even if it stays a PDF, have it on a standalone page. There is not much in the way of player visuals but enough for the Referee to keep the adventure running. The art contained within is really good and is completely in-sync with the text.
All in all, I would recommend The Beast of Karridan’s Hollow, if your Traveller players are itching for a fantasy game without losing the richness of the Mongoose Traveller. The adventure provides an excellent introduction to this world of magic and while it cannot be ported easily outside of Terra/Sol’s Twilight Sector setting without some thinking, it is fine for regular Traveller involving “galactic” of one sort or another. However, it remains a fantasy game with Science Fiction elements cleverly grafted on.