Friday, July 10, 2009

REVIEW: Idol of the Orcs

I'm a firm believer in the notion that you can never have too many low-level adventures. Part of the reason why I believe this is because not every campaign takes root and lasts long enough to get to higher levels of play, but most campaigns begin at the low levels. Consequently, having a large number of low-level adventures ensures that not every new campaign has to kick off with Keep on the Borderlands or The Village of Hommlet. Likewise, even referees who don't use published adventures as-is can pillage them for ideas; I know I do.

That's why I was very pleased to see James C. Boney's Idol of the Orcs, released by Goblinoid Games for Labyrinth Lord. Intended for characters of levels 1-3, Idol of the Orcs is labeled "Module 1," making it the first "official" module for the game, all previous ones having been released by other companies. One is immediately struck by its color scheme, logo, and general look, all of which are quite different than previous releases. Labyrinth Lord's creator, Daniel Proctor, had noted that the game and its support products would be getting a revamp. If this is any indication of the appearance of future releases, I am quite pleased. Labyrinth Lord's new look is very attractive -- clean, uncluttered, and, most important of all (from my perspective anyway), original. This isn't an attempt to ape the past; rather, it's proof that one can publish an old school product without imitating TSR's art direction, circa 1978. It helps, of course, that artist Andy Taylor possesses his own unique style, one that evokes the past without being a slave to it. Idol of the Orcs includes some of his best work to date and goes a long way toward solidifying my favorable impression of this adventure.

Of course, James Boney deserves even more credit. He has succeeded in a minor miracle by injecting new life into a tired old gaming cliché: the player characters must seek out the lair of a band of unusually organized orcs and destroy them before they gain sufficient strength to be a true menace to civilization. That's about as hoary an adventure outline as any in the long history of the hobby and yet, thanks to some interesting little twists, Boney manages to wring one more good adventure out of it. The result is not only a terrific introductory dungeon adventure, complete with monsters, tricks, and traps, but some roleplaying opportunities that could easily kickstart a campaign with follow-up adventures. In my opinion, that's the hallmark of a superb low-level module and that's precisely what you get here.

Idol of the Orcs can't be called "revolutionary" and anyone expecting it to forever change the way they play fantasy roleplaying games will be disappointed. What it can be called, though, is "inspiring." It's a reminder that there is yet much life in the archetypes and tropes of traditional gaming. On a very basic level, this is just another kill-the-orcs-grab-their-treasure adventure, but James Boney reminds us that there's no reason that old school adventures need exist only at such a basic level. Further complexities can and should be added to tried and true formulae and they can be done without turning those formulae on their heads or twisting them into unrecognizable shapes. Idol of the Orcs is thus a rare thing: a straightforward, unpretentious homage to the past that nevertheless manages to introduce some spice into a much-loved recipe.

Idol of the Orcs is available in both PDF and print versions, for $4.95 and $10.95 respectively. If I have a complaint about the module, it's the price. At 14 pages, plus the cover, the price for the print version is a little steep -- not out of line with other publishers, to be sure, but still more than I would expect for something of that length.

Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 7 out of 10

Buy This If:
You're looking for an excellent introductory adventure that adds some twists to a classic set-up.

Don't Buy This If: You have no need for introductory adventures or if you think an "orc hunt" can't possibly be interesting.


  1. While probably unusual, I see no problem with the price if the quality is good. After all, the Inflation Calculator tells us $10.95 in 2008 money would have been $3.35 in 1978: comparable to the prices the modules in the Giants series went for. The question is, is Idol of the Orcs worth as much as Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl? That will have to wait until after I read it (although, having been burned by Lulu, I will stick to the PDF).

  2. I bought this a couple of days ago, in fact, and think it's quite good. Without giving away spoilers, there are some neat moments on the lower levels.

    My only problem with the module (and it's a very minor one) is that, as I recall, the Orcs' tactics are almost all defensive: other than at the entrance corridor, they "hang back and hold the room." Even the leader retreats to his treasure room, instead of organizing a counterattack.

    Of course, I've seen this passivity a lot from different companies' adventures over the years, and it's something a DM can easily change, so, as I said, it's a very minor complaint. Other than that, I think it's very good and a welcome addition to my collection of starter adventures.

  3. Thanks, James. How much work would be involved to use this module with Castles & Crusades?

  4. It was great to work for the first time with James Boney, one of the most talented assets we have in the OSR as far as writing and being a skilled creator of scenarios. Combine that with the great work of Andy Taylor, and it was pretty much a matter of just not screwing anything up too bad in making maps and formatting! We are very fortunate to have so many talented people in the OSR.

  5. most campaigns begin at the low levels.
    Tell my old 3.5 group that. I had one girl who wouldn't play unless we started at 15th level.
    She was a twink, see, and always wanted to test out her new builds as fast as possible.

  6. It ought to be completely compatible with C&C; you'd only have to do the 20-AC trick to switch from LL's descending AC to C&C ascending system. And then you're good to go.

  7. @Matt

    Thanks! That's what I suspected but just wanted to make sure before I spend the $$$.

    Thanks again, James.

  8. Really quick on the price- I'm almost certain it has to do with LuLu. I don't understand why most of the OSR still stick with the overpriced beast- createspace is far more reasonable as far as pricing goes. And for magazines- everyone should check out Magcloud-