Beneath The Ruins, by Alex Fotinakes, is the first release from Geof 'Carcosa' McKinney's new publishing venture Psychedelic Fantasies, which will be a line of unusual adventure settings featuring unique and never--seen-before magic and monsters.
The first thing that strikes you about the module is its physical shape - 11 inches tall and four-and-a-quarter inches wide. The cover is loose and contains a wonderful, hand-drawn map on the inside of the dungeon's single main level and two sub-levels.
The 16-page adventure (39 locations on the main level and 14 spread over the sub-levels) begins with a brief introduction to the location of the dungeon (it's part of Alex's Kihago megadungeon but can stand on its own or be easily integrated into your own megadungeon).
This is followed by some chat about how it's part of the Mythic Underworld - a concept I've never really given much thought to as I've always seen it as simply an excuse for DMs to pull out if their dungeons don't "make sense"... which is odd because Beneath The Ruins, despite some peculiar trappings (which I'll get to in a minute) is a very traditional dungeon.
Very traditional that is if you don't mind including a heavy dose of science-fiction in your campaigns. While reading the module I kept envisaging its locations and inhabitants as sets and aliens from the original Star Trek series (which, itself, was known to draw on subtle Lovecraftian flavours at times).
There were many bits of this sci-fi-ness that I liked - the weird alien technology was suitably old school - although I was less happy with the prevalence of bland alien weaponry.
It's slightly underwhelming that Alex has done such a good job of weirding up various gonzo contraptions in one part of the dungeon and yet the weapons are casually glossed over as virtual proxies for swords and bows.
In typical D&D terms these weapons will be easier for the player-characters to obtain (and potentially more valuable) than any monetary treasure. I would urge caution to any DM looking to run this 'as written' unless he wants an arms race to spring up in his campaign world.
That said, if you're feeling in an Arduin mood (and I often am) then Beneath The Ruins is ready to roll straight out of the envelope.
There is no set goal or objective with this locale except to explore and obtain treasure, which places another very large tick in the 'old school' column for me.
The dungeon level detailed here is home to two factions and one of these comes fully kitted with the advanced weaponry. Both factions have interesting views on their relationships with the environment and quickly sketched, but intriguing, backstories.
But will the player-characters discover these or will they just blunder through everything, kicking in doors, killing monsters and stealing treasure? The introduction of the factions makes this an adventure locale where sometimes talking will work better than hitting.
While the factions are at-war with each other, how the player-characters choose to interact with them is totally up to the players.
In conclusion, Beneath The Ruins is a wonderfully minimalist, gonzo adventure from the Arduin school of "anything goes" and I feel it only really dropped the ball in its uninspired treatment of the high-tech weapons that the PCs could easily get their hands on.
The module is a great taster for Alex's Kihago setting and I hope Geof can encourage him to write up further levels of this (presumably) massive complex. Beneath The Ruins feels like it would work perfectly well on its own, but I'd imagine to get the full effect you'd need to set it in the context of Kihago as a whole.