Tabletop RPG Review: Against the Cult of the Reptile God

Okay, okay, okay.  I’ll bite.  Between Seth Skorkowski’s review and Matt Colville constantly bringing it up, I finally decided to grab a reprint of Against the Cult of the Reptile God from DriveThru and give it a read.  Watch their videos for some interesting deep dives.  But I figure I’ll give my two cents as someone who’s looking to grab some of the better old D&D modules to rip apart and give the Dungeon Crawl Classics treatment.

The general premise is fairly simple.  There’s a cult…to a reptile god.  It operates in and around the city of Orlane.  Nobody trusts anybody now and we’re all very tired.

The PCs come to Orlane for one reason or another.  I think I prefer Colville’s method of having letters from a relative or friend show up that talk about things getting strange in the village and then the letters just stop.  Once they get there, they have to talk to various NPCs to try to get a sense of what’s going on.  But there’s a pervasive sense of fear and distrust.
I think this part of the module could be the most fun, but also the most challenging for a GM.  There are a lot of characters in a lot of locations.  Many of the characters are hiding something.  Even the characters that aren’t hiding anything are scared and distrustful.  The lurking fear in the place should be palpable.  Danger lurks in every shadow and around every corner.  And you can’t stay awake forever.

Because of the sort of sandbox nature of the town, it’s hard to say how it will play out.  The characters could discover all sorts of clues, might make allies or enemies, and could even get abducted.  Eventually, they should move on to the latter part of the module, which is a fairly straight-forward dungeon.  As was the custom of the time, the dungeon doesn’t make much sense.  It’s a fairly small thing, yet it is packed with a dozen or more totally different and often unrelated creatures.  Maybe the reason everyone seems to spend all their time in just one room is that they’re terrified of all the other creatures in all the other rooms?  If I were to run this, I’d definitely modify the dungeon, make the critter choice much more on-theme, and try to have it follow a bit more logic.  That said, there are several very cool aspects that I’d keep.

One problem I’ve got with it is the villain.  Maybe I missed something, but they didn’t seem very fleshed out, nor was their general plan very clear.  What they’re doing to the people of Orlane was clear, but why and to what end?  That’s something I’d probably need to think about.  I like my villains to have a reason to be where they are, doing what they’re doing, other than “they’re EVIL!!!”  I suspect even doing a re-stocking of the dungeon with on-theme critters might help me come up with some more interesting motivations and such.

As has been pointed out by other reviewers, the very detailed location and rundown of everyone’s treasure is odd.  I know it has to do with the expected playstyle of the era, but it really stands out here more than any other I’ve read so far.  Also, only a handful of characters are named, so a GM will have to be ready with a LOT of names if players get into the role playing.

In the future sandbox DCC game I’m kicking around, I’ll definitely be putting Orlane on the map (and maybe prepping some letters to a PC).

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