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Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG: Beyond the Black Gate

Beyond the Black Gate

This is a tough adventure, suggested for about TEN level 5 characters, or half-a-dozen of level 6/7... and even then they are put on notice that a cautious approach of stealthy exploration will win out over those who think they can hack or spellcast their way through anything: however despite a thoughtful approach being best there are moments when nothing but brash courage will do.

The background lifts the lid on the problem. Basically, the Wild Hunt isn't riding out any more and a bunch of witches want the party to sort things out, replacing the Horned King if needs be, and setting the Hunt in motion once more. This will involve multidimensional travel to visit the current Horned King in his realm, the Thrice-Tenth Kingdom, and stealing the Horned Crown off of his very head! Various hooks are provided to get the party involved - enticing them with rumours of vast treasure or somehow manoeuvering them into the clutches of the Witches of Asur, from which the only escape is to undertake this quest.

As befits such a legendary quest, there is a huge number of rumours to be discovered - some even true - which you are encouraged to customise to your own campaign. The core element is that the Witches - and the portal through which the party will be sent - is in the far north of the world. Different classes and races have separate lists of rumours, so there's a good chance that a wide variety will be gathered.

The adventure falls into two parts. First the party has to locate the Witches of Asur, then they go through the portal - which, if you haven't guessed, is called the Black Gate - and the rest of the adventure covers their activities in the Thrice-Tenth Kingdom. It all begins with the party on a ship in a dreadfull storm - they may have taken passage to visit the Witches, or you may decide to spring it on them unawares when they are travelling by sea for a completely unrelated matter. Be that as it may, proceeding begin in a maelstrom of mountainous seas and a howling gale in which the ship founders leaving the party's only hope to scramble onto a rocky shore where they may either climb a 200 ft cliff or enter some very dodgy-looking caves (with the sea trying to drag them back in, of course). Either way, they'll end up in the same place: dark, dank, and plain nasty... and eventually they encounter the Witches who explain why they are here. Like it or not, they'll soon be on their way through the multiverse...

The Thrice-Tenth Kingdom is a bleak and wintry place, infested by giants who will outmatch the party in head-to-head encounters. Knee-deep in snow (if they are lucky) characters will have to contend with the local wildlife as they trudge to their destination. There's plenty to explore in the Horned King's castle, much to see before the throne room is reached and the King himself confronted.

Despite the magnificent build-up to the adventure, the end is somewhat weak. The options seem to be to murder the Horned King or take him as a Patron, for which all the necessary game mechanics are provided. Moreover, if he is slain it is assumed that the party will return the Horned Crown to the witches, who hand out a few rewards and that's that. (If your party has other ideas, the properties of the Horned Crown are listed in considerable detail, however...). You might want to build up the finale a bit to avoid an abrupt ending, but the main part of the adventure has a splendid epic feel. The party won't forget their visit to the Thrice-Tenth Kingdom for the rest of their days!

Return to Beyond the Black Gate page.

Reviewed: 3 May 2018