InfiniBadger Press has put out a double-feature for charity, the “St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Charity Module.” More to the point, it has Erik Jensen’s “Bonespur Glacier” module, and Jason Paul McCartan’s “The Tomb of Bashyr.”
The project started when Christopher Mennell ran a contest in 2012, with the first place prize being a professional work-up of the module. I do not know the long and dark road the project followed to get to this point, but one of the cool things about the OSR community is sometimes wayward projects get new personnel infusing them with energy and skill so they make it out in the end.
My favorite things about this one are likely summed up during and right after the introduction. I think the idea of polar bear people is pretty neat, and the description of the glacier is great. It has yellow-brown algae, so it looks like a chunk of bone. The algae blooms in the summer, so “the entire mountain looks like the haunch of a fresh kill.” Good stuff.
The module describes the polar bear village and testing ground. Also, some supernatural bandits. Also, a dragon lair. Also, a strange tomb. That is a lot going on, in really tight quarters!
The trouble is, I would need to add significant narrative to make the spaces immediately useful in a game. The bandits, sure. The tomb is very small, and would have to be the climax of a thematic adventure not provided here (or a very weird little side note.) Either way, it is better served being in a remote place, not tucked into the same confined space as the other elements. I feel the same way about the dragon; more likely to be a customer, quest giver, or sage than a foe; it is strange for the dragon to be so close to the polar bear people without any explicit relationship between them. I don’t need a map of a polar bear village for them to visit it, unless they’re going with larcenous or murderous intent.
The map is neither here nor there. It is not inspiring, but there isn’t anything wrong with it.
If I was going to run this, I’d reshuffle it a bit. Here’s how.
The people in the valley view the polar bear village with awe, as they are the keepers of ancient secrets. There was a girl tyrant once, with her vicious retinue; the polar bear people first came in answer to prayers, and took the unkillable girl away and sealed her up. Since then, a dragon came to watch over the valley, and they control the only way up to the dragon.
The adventure: a lich has hired them to find the secret of the proto-immortality of the girl queen. They go to the valley and find the tomb is protected by the polar bear people, who are not trusting outsiders right now because of their bandit troubles. Sort out the bandit troubles, and you can have access to the tomb and to the dragon sage (who secretly moved to this area to guard the secret in the tomb.)
No new stats, but that does involve a bit of a reshuffle story wise. Now there’s something to do, a reason to be there, a way the parts interrelate. Enterprising DMs can still use the pieces individually if they want, but if they are looking for a session or two of integrated play, it’s more purposeful.
Anyway, Erik Jensen excels at flavor and style, and this adventure is no different. From frozen soldiers in furs with rifles to a floor tiled with silver pieces under ice, his imagery is satisfying and great to relay to players.
The Tomb of Bashyr
Here you have it all. Goblins, a secret entrance, big vermin, piles of treasure, illusions, esoteric boobytraps, dwarven stonework, riddles, and room to expand. This is an unabashed dungeon crawl environment.
I think the mix of elements here is very evocative of the stereotypes of old school play, especially with the focus on thinking over raw physical might. There are weird magical riddles and traps, so you have to think things through and be cunning instead of just punching everything you see. There aren’t many monsters, but the ones that appear are iconic and entirely at home in the tradition of settings like this, right down to the customized skeletal statues.
In the best OSR DIY tradition, there’s an entrance to level 2. What are you waiting for? Get your graph paper out and keep going!
The art is great. The adventures are neat. I have a soft spot in my heart for wayward projects that finally emerge into the light of day. We all know what it is like to have a great idea, then to lose our grip on it for one reason or another, and see it founder and sink. This project is cool in its own right, and it also has a winning underdog inspiring story to it, and the proceeds go to charity.