Fear of a Black Dragon - The Veiled Society

In the newest episode of our EN-nie winning podcast, Fear of a Black Dragon, @Coalhada and I come crashing into the room with a crossbow in… The Veiled Society!

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When I reviewed this one I thought it was one of the weakest of the B series of modules - a wreck of an effort to make an urban adventure degenerating into a brutal railroad. It feels like it’s built entirely around the inclusion of those card buildings. An experiment gone wrong.

I think the stuff you like about it - gritty urbanism can be managed without the brutal push to force the players to solve the mystery and follow the rails. I don’t know how one does a good urban adventure in 20ish pages - but automatically being pickpocketed, actions forced by PC alignment and GM information presented via novelistic musings ain’t it. The city exists only as a hazy blob of meaningless cliche, without any interesting aspects or anything to offer the GM for players that want to explore the city and the opportunities of the urban. Any sandbox that exists requires the GM to build it - the module just bludgeons along like a 12 year old boy who read a Mike Hammer novel recently and needs to use every trick of antagonistic GMing to drag the players along on his power trip.

B6 is the kind of module that gives classic play a bad name. That’s my take at least. I haven’t played it since 1988 - but I wouldn’t run it.

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I’m super into the way Jason did mystery prep. Love it!

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I can share some of my notes if you’d find that helpful/interesting.

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I too would be keen to see this. I am also sad that the current version of Cthulhu Dark seems to have moved away from this onion-skin model

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It’s so good! I don’t know why they moved away from it.

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As someone who’s been a little deterred from running investigation mysteries due to the prep and execution, the onion method sounds really approachable. I think examples would be great!
It sounds like Cthulhu Dark has this method in the text?

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No, that’s the thing, it doesn’t. Graham abandoned it as a prep method for the formal release of Cthulhu Dark. It was part of the old beta version, in a supplement called Darkest Depths. I’ll try to dig up some of my notes today.

It’s available on his website… Just do a Google search for: dark depths cthulhu dark

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Was just about to post the same.
Can be found with a successful ‘spot hidden’ roll :wink:

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I love this podcast and listen to every episode, but I found it weird when Jason described OSR style open world play as though it were outdated and had been replaced by something objectively better. I mean it’s ok that that’s your opinion (obviously) but it’s weird to hear it expressed in a podcast devoted to reviewing products produced almost exclusively for this style of play. I totally get that your angle, as opposed to Tom’s, is “How can I use this for Dungeon World”. But it seems like you should keep in mind that these products are produced mainly with a view to playing in this style you don’t do, and a fair number of your contemporaries are playing in just that way. (Note: this comment is not about the Veiled Society per se; I think the whole question came up because the module is not well-designed for open world city play, as Gus indicated above.)

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My recollection is that I was referring specifically to scripted encounters. But, also, when i refer to “modern” styles of play, I’m certainly positioning them contra to “old school” play which, by definition, is not modern.

Also, the whole raison d’etre of Fear of a Black Dragon (at least my part in it) is that I don’t play in the style the modules assume you will be playing in. I’m never going to play games that way, because it’s not my cup of tea. But also: I think there are pretty big differences between how DnD worked in the 80s and 90s and how it works today. I suspect someone from the 80s would look at The Black Hack or DCC and scoff, because those games, even though they have an old school aesthetic, have a lot of modern thinking in them.

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At least in my own subjective experience classic exploration play hasn’t changed much since the 80’s (some streamlined mechanics and we’re all older, wiser and more full of odd references … but the core rules and ethos are the same). The thing is that B6 provides an example of how using a classic system (let’s stick with something B/X derived - I like Labyrinth Lord, but whatever - as long as we aren’t muddying things with a 3E redesign or a neo-ultralight) almost depends on an open world. It fails precisely as far as it forces players into a series of encounters/scenes and clumsily uses illusionism.

By way of example, in 1988, with B2, B3 and Giants modules under our belts, we started on B6. I remember the frustration at my thief being automatically pick-pocketed - I was inordinately proud of his 18 DEX, rolled 3D6 in order, and skills in the way that only a pre-teen RPG player can be. My GM, forced by the module I later discovered, told me he was drunk couldn’t notice the pick pocket and then told me I couldn’t talk to the thieves guild to find the thief 'cause I wasn’t a local. It’s this sort of cack-handed illusionism that erodes mutual trust at the table - something I increasingly see as a primary to the ethos of classic play, and I remember B6 sourly, 30 some years later. Open world modules - even objectively mediocre ones like B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (that 1st level map Ugh!) - work better with the mechanics and expected playstyle of 80’s era D&D - which at least among my group played it (and I think this was pretty common given that we weren’t a special group of pre-teens) involve exploration of a faction rich world and resource based dungeon crawling/location based adventure.

In defense of the authors of B6 - it was 1984 and urban adventure at the time appears to have been limited to the impossible urban taxonomy that is Judge’s Guild’s “CityState” - treating the city precisely as a dungeon. Urban adventure design is hard, as are murder mysteries - so there’s an audacity in B6 that I applaud - even if I see the result as a rank failure, it’s like Lost City’s scope and optimism about user created content, an interesting experiment. It’s not as if the later geomorph based city supplement for Lankhmar is groundbreaking.