Sunday, 24 March 2013

Death Frost Doom in a Black Country

Yeah, it's all my fault - no sooner do I print out and start to bind my PDF of Death Frost Doom then the snow sweeps in and paralyses the UK. Sorry. If it makes you feel any better I slipped and fell on the side of my arse walking back from Tescos today and Das Coopwagen will almost certainly be stuck on the drive for much of next week.

I won't bother reviewing DFD because it's been out a few years now and basically everybody else has already done so. I quite like it, it's almost scrupulously fair (which will be returned to later) and has a nice atmosphere. However there is one word that breaks it for me.

That word crops up as early as page 10 and is "susurrus".

Now, I already know what that word means. This is because I had to look it up after encountering it back in White Dwarf 9, specifically Albie Fiore's classic three-and-a-half-page 1st level D&D dungeon The Lichway from 1978. It's not like The Lichway is a famous dungeon or anything, nothing like something mentioned by people like Pterry as being the setting of the first game of D&D he ever played in.

So yeah, DFD is basically a rewrite of The Lichway. I think a lot of people have already noticed this and commented upon it so I'll just add this - LOTFP's Tower of the Stargazer is basically a rewrite of the Beacon at Enon Tor from IMAGINE 1 (April 1983). So there's previous here.

Basically the big problem I have with this scenario (and to be honest, it's the only major one) is that as soon as the word "susurrus" is mentioned, two things happen.

1 - Somebody says "what's that mean?" or
2 - Somebody blinks and thinks "Shit, this is a Lichway rewrite. This time there might actually be a Lich".

So that's problematical. It's a further problem in that the situation is slightly different in the two scenarios, but Lichway's is, I think, superior. To elucidate;

In DFD, a thorny plant blocks entrance to room 22. Air travelling through it's expanse makes the susurrus noise that keeps the undead "asleep". The players will just regard this as a problem to be brushed aside or, worse still, will be sagely wondering if the susurrus noise throughout the dungeon complex is, you know, maybe just maybe keeping the undead asleep. Because that Might. Just. Happen.

(This is what I mean by almost - knowledge of just how bad removing an irritating loads of brambles could be just isn't guessable and if it is - well we all know which WD scenario your players are familiar with...)

In Lichway, a beast called the Susurrus is kept in a cage over a secret trapdoor (yeah, that's a spoiler. The scenario is from 1978 FFS) over the secret treasure (ditto). It lives off air which it pulls through a series of resonant chambers in it's exoskeleton producing the susuruss noise that keeps the undead "asleep". It doesn't actually block any passage through it's chamber. It lives off air so has no reason to attack the PCs unless they have a naked flame which it detests seeing as how a naked flame burns up all the oxygen and is a direct competitor for resources. This makes sense. There is also a bullroarer in the dungeon complex specifically made to control the beast.

So the Lichway sets up a situation whereby the PCs don't actually need to dispose of the Susurrus and probably have to go to some lengths to do so (it's 8HD, they are 1st level) but intelligent play will certainly show them a way to "solve" the "puzzle". DFD just gives them an annoying briar to remove in order to get access to a room that will then fuck them up for doing the obvious thing which is a situation compounded by the fact that in the optional "go to dungeon on quest for McGuffin found in one room" the DM is supposed to place it in the room blocked off by the Susurrus plant.

However, that's the only part I dislike. So, thinking about it while on the household chores this afternoon I came up with the following take. Drop the thorny susurrus plant and introduce


Now we have a wizened old immortal, perhaps one of the very first members of the cult back in Ye Olde Days. He sits in room 22 playing a bone flute. This can be heard everywhere in the dungeon that the original susurrus could. He has sat there since time immemorial playing his bone flute very badly, awaiting the day that a new Grandmaster of the cult will arrive and declare that is time for HELL TO VOMIT FORTH IT'S FILTH. This has never happened in the past. But the eschatology of the cult says that it will one day. Maybe the Grandmaster doesn't know he's the Grandmaster. Maybe he was living the carefree life of a murder hobo dungeon bastard right up until the point where he made the music stop. Who knows? Devan-Ku moves in mysterious ways.

If the PCs try to talk to him he will carry on playing his flute. Should they make moves to attack him he will stop, ask "Are you sure? Are you really sure?" and if they are sure he'll just shrug and let himself be hacked down (1hp which should shock and worry any player who thought that this was THE BIG END OF LAST LEVEL BOSS and was preparing accordingly).


Another tiny problem I have is that there is a chimney up from room 22 clearly intended to be an emergency exit from, basically, the shitstorm that the PCs have just caused. This is claimed to be difficult to find from the surface (i.e. you must use DM's fiat to stop them finding it or the scenario will be fucked) but as we know, what is intended purely as an exit sometimes get used as an entrance as well. The chimney is partly blocked by susurrus brambles but the scenario is quiet on what exactly it would take to clear this and what, if any, this effect would have upon the susurussy noise. It strikes me that this was put in more in hope than expectation that the PCs don't find it. A bit scruffy.

Also why would you have a secret door in room 22 that requires a human sacrifice to open (this is good), alongside another secret door that, err, doesn't require a human sacrifice to open and leads to exactly the same corridor? I would cut out the linking N/S 10' of tunnel that links room 23 to the likes of rooms 24, 25 etc. or have the ritual open both.

But I like this scenario. If I were ever to get a game on, I'd happily run either as an introductory game but I'd have to prep players before running DFD that this is a little bit different to the more run of the mill D&D game.


  1. I like Death Frost Doom a lot, but your piper is a good improvement.

    I asked James about The Lichway back when I first read DFD and ran into the "susurrus" -- recognising it for the exact same reason that you did -- and he did acknowledge it as a deliberate homage. My guess is that a 1978 White Dwarf adventure is going to be obscure enough that most players of old-school D&D -- likely Americans -- will not have played it.

  2. I like it. There is a moral/karmic component to it now.
    Hacking up a plant and unleashing the horde is an 'oops' moment.
    Killing someone who isn't a threat, and furthermore won't defend themselves and unleashing the horde is 'judgement'.

  3. One of the most memorable dungeons ever. Great memories

  4. That's actually great idea. What other adventures could be improved by adding Tom Bombadil?

  5. Creepy pied piper is definitely an improvement on the purring flora.

  6. Yeah, I think I guessed it was a homage not a copy (a difference that John Blanche took great pains to point out to me on the fybosg tumblr). Trouble is though, Brit Gamers have long, long memories for gaming material and TBH it really isn't all that difficult to get your ends on early copies of WD these days - FF blog readers guiltily look at that big folder of PDFs they have. :)

    Every adventure would be improved by adding Tom Bombadil, even overly-long Hollywood movie trilogies that seem to be under the impression that the original source material was some form of action buddy movie with occasional comedy elements...

  7. Quoth James Raggi on Google Plus just now:
    For the record (and I'm commenting here because I cannot deal with the robot password things required to comment on the blogs... I just tried twice, it's just beyond me and has been since they introduced that system):

    I hadn't read or even heard of the Lichway (or read any White Dwarf at all before it became a Warhammer advertising catalog) when I wrote DFD. Some anonymous soul sent me a Best of White Dwarf with the Lichway in December 2010 (recorded here: and that's when I first read it.

    However... the susurrus as a monster appears in the Fiend Folio pretty much only has one use and this scenario grew from that.

    And I've never heard of Beacon at Enon Tor until reading this post just now. I certainly haven't read it (or anything else that was printed in Imagine; I've never seen a copy).

  8. I guess the good news is James didn't mean to rip off the Lichway but the bad news is he's probably a robot.

  9. Thanks for clearing that Zak and James. For a robot, he writes pretty good stuff!

  10. You can add Tom Bombadil anytime I get to hack him to death. The zombie apocalypse is a small price to pay to hear the death rattle of Tom Bombadil