Review: Deep Carbon Observatory
by Ramanan Sivaranjan on July 19, 2014
Deep Carbon Observatory is an adventure by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess. I bought it the day it was announced because it’s an adventure by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess. I’ve been reading it on and off while also reading the adventure found in the D&D 5th Edition Starter Set. The contrast between the two adventures is so stark.
Gus has written a thorough review of the nuts and bolts of the module. My opinions more or less mirror his so I’m not sure it’s worth repeating them in too much detail. Instead I will say this one thing: Deep Carbon Observatory is wonderfully written.
The sight is without sound and stinks like an airless tomb burning in the light of an unwanted sun. But, in the silence, movement worms. The whole place has the feel of a terrible revealing. Like a black sheet pulled back from a naked corpse.
Deep Carbon Observatory is thoroughly unrelenting its bleakness. There is a sadness that permeates the whole work. The players march towards the observatory passing all sorts of horror on their way.
The Roc’s bowed wings make a beautiful but alien bridge across the churning water. The body of the bird twitches slightly, devoured by whatever lies beneath. Looking down, you see leeches, sized like men, feeding on the bird. Not yet fully dead its head lolls half sunken and gasps. The ‘bridge’ will be consumed in d4 hours. It may be possible to save the Roc. It will not be grateful if you do.
So much of the adventure makes me feel uncomfortable: there is this dread that builds and builds as you move from page to page in the book. These little vignettes all do a great job of showing the players the terrible aftermath of the flood, hopefully filling them with that same sort of dread as they play. The adventure feels like it would be at home in a Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign.
Things don’t get better when you make it to the Underdark.
Hidden under the dirt of the far wall are slave survival spells in a simple tongue, decipherable by any mage. All the spells count as level one, are not very powerful and can be cast without being noticed: Reduce Scars. Lessen Pain. Minimise Thirst. Hide Sorrow. Avoid Notice. Ease Grief.
Scrap Princess’ illustrations contribute to the overall tone of the book. I find her work is so frenzied and terrifying. Maybe that’s not the right word, but there is something about how she draws that I find really visceral. I don’t know anyone else that draws like her.
I own no other adventure like this one: I liked it a lot.
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