Review: Demon Bone Sarcophagus
by Ramanan Sivaranjan on March 22, 2023
I finished reading the rest of Demon Bone Sarcophagus this morning. This adventure is a big dungeon crawl, a tomb for the Empress of Fire, now resting in the titular Demon Bone Sarcophagus. The adventure was made by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess, produced as part of a Kickstarter that concluded during the pandemic. I waited for the hardcopy to arrive before giving it a proper read.
The dungeon is a giant triangle, composed of smaller triangles. You can see the player facing map above. This layout feels a bit repetetive, because it is, but the choice is likely thematic and meant to evoke the fire triangle (ignition, oxygen, fuel). The choice also produces a dungeon that is very interconnected. There are lots of paths through the dungeon. There are tunnels made by a giant sloth running through the complex as well, which is another layer of interconnection. Players may break their way into these tunnels, or rooms may collapse into them during play. There are “glass girls”, acid golem monsters, wandering above the tomb that players can attempt to use to blast new holes into the dungeon, creating yet another layer of interconnection. The dungeon itself feels quite dynamic in this regard. I’m not sure I’ve read an adventure that expects the layout to change so much through play: can you think of any?
It’s a bit of a fun house dungeon, each set of 4 triangles that compose the larger tomb thematically linked. I’m not sure there was actually that much utiltity in reading the whole thing up front, versus quickly skimming things and playing a little bit by the seat of your pants, like god intended. I think being familiar with the factions and people that are wondering the tomb is likely more important, and they are presented up front.
The rooms descriptions are verbose. It feels like everyone nowadays copies what has become the house style for Old School Esentials, which likely originated with Courtney Campbell’s posts on writing room descriptions: terse, bullet points, information revealed in the order players will encounter it, etc. Silent Titans is written this way, and I think is a great example of how you can marry great writing with this more utilitarian style. Demon Bone Sarcophagus feels a bit old school in its presentation by comparison. That the typography and copy editing are sloppy does it no favours here either. There is lots of evocative stuff throughout this dungeon, but some rooms are hard to quickly parse.
There are some great pieces of art from Scrap in this module. I love the version of the Reductor, one of the NPCs in the book, that is featured on the back cover of the module. It manages to look backlit. If you like Scrap’s art you’ll like what we have here, if you don’t you won’t. There is a good mix of work from Scrap: simple B&W illustrations to full colour pieces.
Scrap and Patrick have a good eye for what will make for a good adventure. You can feel all the stored kinetic energy just waiting to burst on these pages. I love all the random encounter tables, each entry a monster or NPC paired with the action they are performing. Many entries feel like they might be the centre of a fun night of gaming. The opening of the adventure, like Patrick’s other adventures, opens with a bang: the players stumble upon the aftermath of a huge fight, characters from various factions lay dead and dying everywhere, while key members have fled into the tomb. Like everything this team does, it all feels quite unique, even though it’s just a dungeon crawl through a tomb.
These are just some quick thoughts after having read the module. I am keen to run this soon. It looks like it’ll be fun to play through. I’ll report back on how that all goes.