Thursday, February 1, 2024

Let's Talk Adventures: DCC #68: The People of the Pit

: Joseph Goodman
Publisher: Goodman Games
Marketplace: Goodman Games, DrivethruRPG 
System: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG 

I first played The People of the Pit in March of 2019 and I have very fond memories from this module.

At that time, I had joined the Dungeon Crawlers Discord, a DCC fan board that I was assured had a great LFG section, and was not disappointed.  I joined a group that was going to meet every Thursday. We would play either a published Goodman Games module, playtest our own module, or bring an adventure of the right approximate length, and run it. As soon as we were done, the GM would rotate. We all had our own PCs, but they,would not be allowed a vote in party decisions while we played.

We started with Sailors on a Starless Sea, which only two of my six characters survived. One of them, Podrux, immediately became a group favourite.  A tailor, but a wealthy one with gems in his pocket, Podrux wasn't raiding the citadel of Chaos because he was trying to save his kin... No, he was on this adventure because these bastards owed him money, and they can't pay up if they're dead. My fellow players loved the cowardly,  greedy, sarcastic bastard who was really the village usurer. Especially as he got his hands on magic power and immediately started trying to figure out how to get more.

Our second game was a playtest of my module Vikings on a Starry Sea, which I will publish one day. Followed by a GM who had a plot in mind, and started setting up what would be his own episodic plot. In which Podrux defrauded a town of incredible wealth, sacrificed some pets, and started courting power from a few patrons.

And then came The People of the Pit. This Sprawling Dungeon was one of the weirdest I'd ever encountered in a way I'd really liked. It is, to me, one of the defining modules of the Dungeon Crawl Classics catalogue. Given that it was the second DCC module released for Goodman Games' own new TTRPG, it had to be. I would not be surprised if it was a big portion of the reason Goodman Games was such a hit.

We found ourselves recruited to investigate attacks coming from a massive pit in the hills outside of the town our enchanted boat had finally run aground near. One that had a grim history with the locals as a place where wicked people once congregated.

As we proceeded down the pit we had harrowing battles with a group of faceless spellcasting Cultists whose bodies erupted into octopoidal monstrosities when they died. A magical misfire caused Podrux to experience a terrible corruption, leaving his skin an ashen gray and peeling.

As we climbed deeper into the pit, we found landings and side passages guarded by the faceless Cultists, and at each one, Podrux had more ill turns, including another corruption turning his eyes bleach white. Of course, the cultists threw his only friend, a plucky halfling into the misty abyss below.

As we descended we discovered shafts full of giant, squirming tentacles, sometimes with chains and ladders lashed to them. We lost a hireling who was crushed to paste when one of the tentacles twitched as we descended, and found ourselves in a haunted crypt where spectral knights tries slaying us. Podrux was sadly useless, and I lost my other PC in the battle.

In the process of destroying these horrors the party found riches and Podrux discovered the secret of a spell to control the tentacles, but thanks to an abysmal Mercurial Magic roll, every time he cast it, he would suffer even further corruption.

On a second foray into the pit we encountered the temple of the faceless cultists, and Podrux used his new magical weapon to force the giant tentacles they had used to bore their lair deep beneath Aerith to crush them, at the cost of becoming rubbery and cartilaginous like a mollusc.

A desperate face-off with the cult leader forced him to use the spell again, and his fingers turned into writihing (but usable) tentacles. 

We discovered that these cultists were overseeing a race of horrid, eyeless baboon-men who had a primitive village at the floor of the pit, which ended in the burrow of a cthuloid writhing beast of impossible size with tentacles whose bases were often as thick as redwood pines. The monsters spotted us and surrounded us skulking around the village. When our cleric was slain and our warrior was bleeding to death, Podrux opted to cast the spell once more, this time burning every point of ability score he could space to crush the village and his attackers with the unearthly horror's tentacles, and then lift us up and out of the pit, before forcing the creature to go deeper into the depths.

Three of the surviving adventurers were half-made, but alive. Podrux, however had sprouted tentacles around his how deformed sucker mouth and off of his head as all of his hair, facial and otherwise, had turned to tentacles. Thank heavens he'd singed off his eyebrows in a previous adventure! Left hideous and deformed beyond recognition, he retired from adventuring and had is friends buy him supplies so that he could become a hermit in a cave. There he would trade with visitors in dark magic for gold.

He was no longer just Podrux, within a few years he became The Podrux: a deformed, mad, monster that dabbles in perverse sorcery in the caves. The tale of his hideous deformities became the stuff of local legends. Stories of how he warped himself were used to scare naughty children into not playing with anything magical. I left the campaign on good terms shortly thereafter, but I was told that a year of play (and several years in game) the party had turned over so that neither PCs nor players remembered this tale. Brave young PCs eventually set out to free the village of the frightening shadow of The Podrux and (with my enthusiastic blessing) he became the tentpole monster of a dungeon full of magical traps, and was eventually slain by the party.

So, why tell you all of this, instead of reviewing the module proper? Obviously, this is not going to be how everyone experiences the module... but it is what the module hopes to accomplish: DCC RPG thrives on weirdness, chaos, and pulpy vibes, and this delivered.

With The People of the Pit being released when it was, it was the module that was going to make or break DCC RPG. It had to be the game's proof-of-concept beyond the level-0 funnels that had been released, and it does it beautifully.

Everything from the artwork, to the way the text is presented, to the kind of weird and bizarre encounters, The People of the Pit captures what DCC set out to do, and does it really well. It really sealed the deal for DCC fans looking to drop D&D4e for something different. If they had failed to capture the Appendix-N / pulpy vibe with this module, DCC RPG might not have grabbed the place it did in the OSR and table-top hobby that it did. If you really wanted to capture what Goodman Games set out to do, this is the module you should pick up.

Of course DCC has evolved, and there are several later modules that rally are milestones in its development since that are just as important if you want the whole picture, but if you really want to know DCC RPG it its freshest, most vibrant stage, this is it.

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