The New Classics: Stonesky Delve

stonesky_coverThere is a shared experience in gaming that I miss.  When I meet adult gamers I can usually talk about Tomb of Horrors or the Sinister Secrets of Salt Marsh and even if we’ve never gamed together we can talk about what it was like to play or run these classic modules.  Even for gamers that never played them they have at least heard of them.

Today that shared experience is more difficult to find.  There are so many different kinds and versions of RPGs people play and countless adventures for them all that it even if I talk about adventures from the largest companies like Wizards of the Coast or Paizo the chance that others have played the same modules is rather small.  With that in mind I humbly offer the following as a new classic.  A module that I feel people should play and have fun with.

Stonesky Delve is an OSRIC module written by Joseph Browning and published by Expeditious Retreat Press.  It is the fifteenth in their Advanced Adventure line.  At the risk of sounding biased Joe is a friend of mine whom I have gamed with on many occasions. I was a play tester for this module and when Stonesky Delve was first published it was run as a tournament at Gen Con 2010 and I was one of the DMs Joe asked to help him with the tournament.  I enjoyed the module immensely and when I was running Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG earlier this year this was one of the few modules that I had to run for that group.

Before I get farther in there will be spoilers but not a lot.  There will be talk of some specific encounters but mainly just the general themes and feel of the module.

Stonesky Delve is a module for six to ten adventurers of levels four through seven.  The front cover says it is for four to six adventurers and I think that is a misprint but while challenging I think you could go through this with fewer characters.  The setup is rather simple.  A new cave has been discovered and needs explored.  In the beginning text it does have a time limit as it is a module for a tournament, but that can be ignored without significant impact to the module.  The time limit does help keep the PCs moving and the way the module is presented makes that an interesting factor.

The module is designed to run in two sessions.  The first session is cave exploration.  It is really well designed to do this.  There are small spaces that are difficult to fit through.  Instead of many passages branching off left and right most of this module is up and down making it unlike other modules.  Climbing is very important.  The first part of the module contains animals, vermin and monsters one might find in a typical fantasy world cave.  This goes a long way to making the cave feel real but also makes it tough on an adventurer’s pocket book.  There is treasure within, but it is not obvious and not easy to find.

The second part of the module is part of an ancient Dwarven temple connecting to the caves.  This area is not very large so it exploration in a four hour session and does feel more like a more traditional dungeon crawl.  There are some places a TPK can happen and one of them is with a Dwarven wizard that can really be a problem.  There are in module reasons for allowing a dwarf to cast spells, so do not worry about that.  What I really like about the encounter is there are ten rounds of suggested actions for the villain.  These actions are well thought out using the environment as well as the powers of the wizard.  This guy should and will give the PCs fits, but it is also one of those great memorable encounters.   The module also has one of the few encounters with a Flail Snail that I can recall.

Much of the treasure found is not coins.  There are paintings and valuable pieces of furniture and many books.  This creates a new problem as the group has to climb out of here and part of that climb includes a waterfall.  The climb is much more difficult with a bed strapped to one’s back.

The module does have a few new monsters to keep even experienced players on their toes.  My favorite is the Gampoge Hulk cousin to the Umber Hulk and is featured on the front cover of the module.

The module is good for parties that want to explore and fight and to face some different problems like how to safely climb down when the party runs out of rope.  It is not a module that offers a lot of role playing opportunities or mysteries.  There is a riddle to solve but most encounters are going to start and end in bloodshed.

When I ran it for DCC RPG I ignored the level requirements.  The party was full of first and zero level characters, many who died with failed climbing checks.  The monsters descriptions remained the same, but behind the screen the mechanics were mostly the same for each monster.  They only had a few hit points and attacked with just a d20 roll and did maybe a d4 or d6 damage.  Some encounters like the Wizard I prepped for, but most of the conversions were done at the gaming table behind the screen.

Stonesky Delve is a good adventure that offers something a bit different to most fantasy games.  It makes mundane actions like climbing more important and challenging and focuses on the exploration and discovery more so than just wanton killing, though there is that too.  There are rules for tournament scoring so you can keep track of what the PCs do and score them accordingly.  It is a newer module and one I declare as a new classic.

What other more recent modules do you think would be great for other groups to play to get back some of that shared experience?

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

6 thoughts on “The New Classics: Stonesky Delve

  1. Since there are so many choices in the OSR world, the playing field for determining which will become classics is pretty muddled. An adventure can only become classic when two or more gamers from different groups can share their experiences with it and wax nostalgic.

    For me, Sailors on the Starless Sea and Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk spring to mind.

    • It is definitely harder for something to become classic with the myriad of systems out there, many even within the same genre.

      The Advanced Adventures are written to the OSRIC set of rules. That does lend itself well to easy conversion to several other OSR systems. At least in the OSR world or retro world that helps lower that barrier a little bit.

      Sailors on the Starless Sea is definitely a popular one for DCC RPG and one that most anyone playing seems to be able to share tales about. Not sure if it will branch out much from the DCC RPG crowd though.

      For Pathfinder, I wonder if something like Rise of the Runelords will claim that classic status?

      • I can see Burnt Offers the first in Rise of the Runelords series becoming a classic. A lot of people played through it when it was first released and when it was released as a hardcover with the the whole AP. But from just general readings of groups on line it seems only in about one in two or even less seem to ever finish an AP.

        • Yeah – it would be interesting to see just how many groups actually complete a full AP. I sometimes I feel like our group does it by sheer willpower alone!

          • We never completed Shackled City or Age of Worms. In other groups I failed to finish Savage Tide and Rise of the Runelords so my personal record is just three of seven.

          • I have finished the Serpent Skull AP and have just started the Reign of Winter AP and the Skull and Shackles campaign. I love them! But they are a big ask, Serpent Skull took us 15 months to complete playing at least once a week!

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