Saturday, November 7, 2020

Adventure Review: Into the Demon Idol

 Adventure Review: Into the Demon Idol

: Jobe Bittman
Publisher: Bloody Hammer Games
Marketplace: Goodman Games
Engine: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, OSR (Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry)

Over the Summer, I did an article on using One Page Dungeons that was a huge hit. It remains my most-read article on Welcome to the Deathtrap. The adventure featured the adventure Into the Demon Idol by Jobe Bittman. In it, I noted that there was an expanded, full-length module version of the adventure that I had not read.

Jobe liked my article enough to send me a copy of the expanded Into the Demon Idol by mail (along with a copy of The Chick Tract "Darkest Dungeons" which gave me a huge laugh.) It was very different from the adventure I built up out of the one page module, and well worth reviewing here!

It is set in a region where several united Lizardman tribes are slowly advancing on civilization and crushing everything in their path. The region is presented as a hex crawl where Lizardman dominated territory is marked by a clear border. Encounters on the Lizardman side of the border are designed to be dangerous and difficult. As time passes, the border expands ss the Lizardman horde advances. 

The map adventure contains data on how the PCs can break the invading army's chain of command and halting their advance by invading their war-czmp, Drachensmoot, but these encounters involved are deliberately overwhelming.

Into the Demon Idol is an adventure in three acts. In the first act the PCs are sent on a mission to search a remote ruin of a now-extinct cult of evil magicians in hopes of finding weapons for the war effort. This involves hex travel ahead of a steadily advancing horde while evading scouts and shock troops.

 In the second act, the PCs explore the ruins. This is a fine-tuned version of the original one-page dungeon below, and  ends with the discovery of the Demon Idol.

In the third act, the PCs have a magical war machine at their disposal, albeit one with a limited supply of fuel and firepower, and which requires constant on-the-fly repairs to work. While controlling the Demon Idol, many of the killer encounters that they were forced to avoid become manageable. With it, they can break the Lizard-man advance and shatter their leadership, saving the region from annihilation.

The book is created in Zine format, with a cardboard  cover and staple binding with cover art by RPG art legend Steven Poag, and interior art by Bradley McDevitt in a style very much inspired by 1970s comics and RPG art.

All of the books' encounters are presented in a system-neutral manner. A bookmark included in the manual has statistics for all of the monsters formatted for DCC RPG, Labyrinth Lord (a BD&D retroclone), and Swords and Wizardry (an OD&D retroclone).

The manual includes subsystems for simple mass combat of the Demon Idol vs. The Lizardman armies, and one for proceedurally generating a hellish layrinth if the PCs wind up in the Plane of Torment.

What I Loved

The Aesthetic

Jobe self-describes this book as fitting a preposterawesome aesthetic. That is to say, a mix of silly, over-the-top, and really fun. Preposterous and Awesome.  And this book fits that description beautfully: fighting gelatinous humanoids and giant crabs to get control a giant mechanical monster in order to destroy the Lizardmen (often in swaths of hundreds at a time) is certainly as engaging as it is silly. As is the artwork and writing style, especially the comic-bookish lavender cover and the tongue-in-cheek rear cover spiel capture that perfectly.

This takes fantasy role-playing into the realm of Saturday morning cartoons, or the kind of crazy stories my five year old tells. And that is definitely something I would love to play. Jobe intends to make Into the Demon Idol's Aesthetic the core of his Bloody Hammer brand.


Into the demon Idol is designed to move at a punishing clip. Every moment of the characters waste, the lizard man army gets closer and closer to destroying their home and driving civilization out of this wilderness. While there is a little wiggle room for exploring. The constant threat of finding yourself behind enemy lines or running out of time for your home base keeps players from wanting to wander too far or spend too much time. Exploring the ruins feels like an urgent task. Combat Encounters in the dungeon itself often involve the player characters being pushed towards hazards, where they might be fed to a giant crab or literally dragged into a hellish Plane of Torment. This keeps the adventure constantly moving forward: you barely have time to catch your breath. taking the time to pick up extra torches and rations in town can be a hard call.


The pacing of the adventure also creates some great dilemmas. One of the most notable being that once the player characters have their hands on the Demon Idol, it is at 1/5 hit points and low on fuel. It will be a far better weapon if it is repaired, and more of the gems it needs to move and attack are mined. But, getting the Idol up to full fighting trim can take two and a half days, and mining fuel even more. Players could  find themselves agonizing over the choice of letting the Lizardman Advance continue so they have the best possible weapon, or settling for reduced firepower in order to save more lives.

Growth Points

Clearer Level Guidance

Well I realize that and encounter balance is not very important to OSR play, when it comes to extremely low-level play, it really does help to know how likely it is that a TPK will result. Especially as the power curve in Dungeon Crawl Classics is significantly steeper than it is for Labyrinth Lord or Swords and Wizardry. The stated level 0 to 3 isn't particularly clear or helpful. Looking at the game, I would recommend it for 2nd or 3rd level OSR characters or 1st or 2nd level DCC characters..

Mass Combat Could Use Some Work

The climax of this module is likely to be the player characters riding in a partially restored Demon Idol as it stomps into Drachensmoot and lays waste to armies of lizardmen like they are Doctor Manhattan in the opening sequence to Watchmen.

For all intents and purposes, Into the Demon Idol handles this by creating stat blocks for hordes of 200 lizardmen, and artillery emplacements. The player characters work together to give the Demon Idol two actions. Hordes of enemies have a collective pool of hit points and are attacked as groups with a single armour class. If the Idol is fully repaired, the battle should be one-sided, as it probably ought to be. A fully repaired Idol can take 500 hit points of damage, while an artillery emplacement might be able to Dole out 4d12. This means that even at full damage it would take quite some time to bring down the Demon Idol.

As a whole, this accomplishes what it sets out to do. The players can enjoy, if briefly, stomping through Dragonsmoot like Godzilla through Tokyo, wiping out hundreds of lizardmen with a single attack. However, I think the execution needs a little tweaking. For one thing, we don't have a hit point total listed for the artillery emplacements. For another, we don't have any idea of how the Lizardfolk might be able to tip the scales doing things like tripping the Idol, which might be worthwhile to include so that it is not just a matter of swapping damage.

The Plane of Torment Needed Fleshing Out

It is possible in Into the Demon Idol to be dragged to a hellish Plane of Torment by the demons lurking in the dungeon. If player characters find themselves in the Plane of Torment, maybe getting his room 666 of a 700+-room dungeon. Entrances, exits, and encounters in each room are randomized. The module includes a tool for procedurally generated a complex, non-euclidean nightmare-realm that player characters are trapped in. In each chamber there is a chance that each door will take the PCs back to their home plane.

Although the concept is cool, there's simply not enough space in this book to do the idea Justice. For example, we have three levels to this plane that a player character might find themselves in Moon Base Zeta, the Lake of Fire, or the Pits, but aside from the evocative names we have nothing to distinguish the three. Likewise, there are only three types of creatures that live in this massive labyrinth for which we have stats.

Even if the final blank page is being used to help flesh out the Plane of Torment, it probably would not have offered enough material to really make this idea sing. If anything, I feel it deserves its own module. In the meantime, a low-level character dragged through a portal to Hell probably just be considered instantly killed.


Into the Demon Idol is a tense, tightly-designed Adventure. It combines an over-the-top high-concept and truly memorable action driven at a feverish pace. If anything, it comes off as a little too ambitious. A little more space dedicated to the mass combat and leaving out the Plane of Torment and  turning it into a separate adventure could have made the mass combat a little more exciting. As is, however, it is such a fun design that I doubt the players would even notice the simplicity of mass combat: they would be having too much fun!

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