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Designed by: Anthony Joyce
Tabletop RPGs and video games have a lot of obvious crossover, but I’d never seen a DMs Guild module use actual pixel art in its maps, tokens, and handouts, until now.
“The Heir of Orcus: Verse I” is the first-half of a two-part series, using the colorful backdrop of the never-ending war between angels and demons. It’s designed for a party around 3rd level and could be run as a one-shot depending on the number of combat encounters.
Verse I has lots of opportunities for fun role-playing and exploration. There’s a heavy focus on the richly-designed NPCs, though the adventure abruptly ends before the third act, requiring you to continue the story in Verse II.
I rolled my eyes when I first saw the art style and the very 90s advertising on the cover (and back cover). But the module really embraces its theme and goes all out with fantastic pixel art and tokens, particularly the portraits of each of the major NPCs. The portraits gave me fond memories of classic RPG and adventure games like Quest for Glory.
The adventure beings with the PCs heeding the summons to the ominously named Mafisto Manor, home of the Mafisto tiefling twins. The pair are actually a succubus and an incubus. Like all the NPCs in the adventure, they’re given deep backstories, motivations, and character quirks.
Mordakai Mafisto, for example, had his entire lower jaw ripped off during his time in the Blood War, and suffers from PTSD. He communicates with the help of a Helm of Comprehending Languages, which a PC could win off him if they challenge him to his favorite game, Dragonchess.
The adventure hook is practically non-existent, unfortunately. How did the heroes end up traveling in this carriage, driven by a deformed gnome and secret demon cultist? The adventure suggests using the PCs’ backstories, which isn’t terribly helpful. I would’ve liked to see some more detail or information, and maybe several different options for putting the PCs on the path of the adventure.
On the way to the manor they’re accosted by a group of holy knights of Tyr. Like a lot of video games the adventure lets the players choose between a good and evil path; they can side with the knights and confront the twins about attacking and capturing one of their own, or the players could kill the knights and talk to the twins about signing up under the archdevil Zariel (maybe she provides good dental).
My only problem with this is that I imagine most PCs will take the good path, and have the knights tag along to the manor, which has a very good chance of turning the encounter with the twins into a straightforward battle. That would be a bummer as the social encounters with the demons are a lot more fun.
The manor itself is intricately detailed. Each of the eight areas is given a full page description, and each room has something interesting going on. It’s surprisingly light on danger and combat (the twins themselves are the only real threat), but the manor seems like a lot of fun to explore.
The ultimate goal is to get the map to the Temple of Orcus, which holds a lost celestial. Unfortunately just when the party gets to the dungeon entrance, the module ends. The action presumably picks back up in Verse II, which I purposefully haven’t looked at yet as I wanted to review each episode separately.
I do have a problem with this design. If you’re going to release your adventure in individual episodes, each episode should feel like it has a proper beginning, middle, and end. Verse I feels like it ends just when the third act is about to begin.
It’s a shame because otherwise the story, characters, art and design are otherwise fantastic. If Verse II holds to the same quality, the full adventure should be an easy recommendation.
- The unique pixelated art style is well-utilized and looks fantastic, from the isometric maps to the pixelated head-shot portraits.
- Maps are provided for all the areas in the module, including gridded and non-gridded, as well as nifty card handouts depicting the NPCs and tokens for VTTs.
- The module is very well-organized, including notes on what happens when if certain NPCs are killed.
- Each Scene has a concise method for tackling the problem in three different ways that highlight the major D&D pillars: Combat, Exploration, and Social.
- Every single challenge can be successfully completed without combat!
- Lacks a proper adventure hook.
- The module doesn’t have a proper ending, and requires Verse II to continue.
The Verdict: With lovely pixel art, well-written NPCs, and lots of satisfying avenues for role-playing and exploration, “The HEir of Orcus: Verse I” is a great start to a memorable adventure.
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