Zini Dungeons

Best Left Buried is a fantasy horror roleplaying game in which characters venture into the crypts and caves below the earth in search of secrets and treasures and there face unnameable monsters, weird environments, eldritch magic, and more… Whilst deep underground, they will be under constant stress, face fears hitherto unknown, and the likelihood is that they will return from the depths physically and mentally scarred, the strangeness they have seen and the wounds they have suffered separating them from those not so foolish as to descend into the dark. Published by Soul Muppet Publishing, there are several versions of Best Left Buried. Although all three contain the same basic rules, they vary according to the extra information they contain. So Best Left Buried: The Zini Edition offers a lightweight, basic version intended for ease of play; Best Left Buried: Cryptdigger’s Guide To Survival includes more information for both player and information as well as everything in Best Left Buried: The Zini Edition; and Best Left Buried: Deluxe Edition contains everything plus background and extra rules.

Best Left Buried: The Zini Edition or A Doom to Speak – The Crypt Collection 1: Rules is probably the most accessible, presenting its contents in discrete, self-contained chapters or ‘Zinis’. The idea here is to minimise page-flipping and the format has also been applied to its companion, A Doom to Speak – The Crypt Collection 1: Dungeons. This is an anthology of fifteen mini-dungeons and mini-locales reduced to the ‘Zini’ format, just four pages per entry, written by a diverse number of writers working in the Old School Renaissance hobby. Each entry adheres to the same format, a title page providing an illustration of the dungeon’s main antagonist, a quick introduction to the dungeon, a page listing each of the monsters and any treasure to be found in the dungeon, and then a double-page spread showing the plans or maps of the dungeon, building, or locale with its room descriptions circling the map. The result is generally easy to read, though anyone used to traditional maps with their numbered locations may need to make a slight adjustment to get used to the self-contained design.

A Doom to Speak – The Crypt Collection 1: Dungeons is bookended by maps. It 
opens with a combined map and table of contents for the anthology’s content. The map is of the Eastern Isles, part of Soul Muppet Publishing’s The Thirteen Duchies of Lendal setting. It closes with a full map of The Thirteen Duchies of Lendal which shows an oddity that the Eastern Isles are actually in the west of Lendal. The map at the front of the book does at least mark the Eastern Isles’ major duchies along with the locations of the fifteen dungeons and their page numbers. This though highlights the issue of the lack background given in the anthology to either the Eastern Isles or The Thirteen Duchies of Lendal. A Zini devoted to either would have provided some context to the fifteen dungeons in A Doom to Speak – The Crypt Collection 1: Dungeons.

The dungeons or locations or encounters vary wildly and weirdly, from caves occupied by alien creatures from the stars and the unknown and halls and houses fallen to the macabre and the magical to islands which breath and swallow and ravines stalked by insectoid monsters. For example, ‘Hearteater’s Hall’ is a rural Elven manor house, home to the late Lord Holston, a Blood Elf who has and regressed into savagery and a meaty diet with servants who would love to have the Cryptdiggers to dinner, whilst ‘Like Family’ details Remly House, a manor home to a coven of mages which has not been heard from recently and so perhaps might be worth investigating or even burglarising… The Game Master will have fun with a particular NPC in this scenario, a talking book and there are lots of little details here for the player characters to dig into. Elsewhere ‘The Prophet’s Valley’ offers visions from the ninth child of a Gorgon at the end of a ravine—or plenty to steal and ‘Transmuter’s Tower’ is home to a noted wizard and sage who has not been seen since a calamitous sound was heard from within its walls. Other dungeons include tombs and caves and temples, and so on, some located in jungles, some in ravines, some by the coast.

Perhaps the two dungeons in A Doom to Speak – The Crypt Collection 1: Dungeons that stand out are not dungeons at all, but rather mini-hexcrawls which give the monsters and situations described room to breathe. Literally in the case of ‘Maw Isle’, and literally not in ‘White Hair’. ‘Maw Isle’ is part island, part tentacular monster, that hunts and crunches ships. The seas around the island seem to rise and fall as the island breathes even as shipwrecked survivors do their best to get by until rescue arrives or another ship presents a means of getting off the island. ‘White Hair’ is even stranger, a village, the surrounding hills, grottoes and tombs under a rain of white hair that falls each time a singular dragon takes to the sky. Exploring the mini-region exposes the Cryptdiggers to more and more of the strange hair and as it more and more gets everywhere, they get infected by it and they begin to transform… This is delightfully weird set-up, the infection driving the Cryptdiggers to discover what is going on.

In general, A Doom to Speak – The Crypt Collection 1: Dungeons provides a good mix of dungeons, houses, caves, and other adventuring location. There is always a sense danger to them, something not quite right about them, whether it is a mad researcher bent on obtaining hidden lore at all costs, alien scorpions attempting to conquer the world, or a fertility cult blasé about its sacrifices. The Zini format also leads to a sense of claustrophobia to the dungeons, if not the mini-hexcrawls. What they are missing though is context, the reason why they are there and, in many cases, why the Cryptdiggers would be interested in visiting such places. Now of course, the Game Master and her players can come up with motivations for the Player Characters, but there is no denying that one or two more, or even some, hooks would have helped to draw the Cryptdiggers into each location. 

Similarly, some information about the Eastern Isles would have been useful too, adding more context to the playing area for the Game Master and her players. Rounding out the anthology is a guide to adapting the monsters in A Doom to Speak – The Crypt Collection 1: Dungeons to Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying games. This nicely expands the utility of the book and its contents. There are innumerable roleplaying games for which the contents of the anthology would work, whether that is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Mörk Borg.

Physically, A Doom to Speak – The Crypt Collection 1: Dungeons is a neat and tidy book, light on artwork, but what there is, is decent and the maps are all very clear.  Although in many cases, the Game Master and her players will have to supply context and motivations for the Cryptdiggers, A Doom to Speak – The Crypt Collection 1: Dungeons provides fifteen solid adventuring locations for a Best Left Buried game. They work as one-shots, but are flexible enough to work into a campaign or even be adapted to the dark fantasy roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice, but whatever the choice of game, they should each provide a good session’s worth of play. 
Source: rlyehreviews

Zini Dungeons