Monday, August 05, 2013

[Review] Djinn of the Deep

Silver Gryphon Games just released a new adventure for Savage Worlds (and, perhaps more importantly, for Shark Week!), and were kind enough to send me a copy for review!  I hope they still like me when I'm done, since I've a few things both good and bad to say about this adventure.  If you are interested in Djinn of the Deep, you can buy it here.

Summary (Spoiler Alert):
Djinn of the Deep is a pulp action yarn of the purest type, designed for fast play and over the top action, complete with wild locations and encounters.  It is ideally suited for use as a convention adventure or pick up game, and should be playable in one long session.  The Player Characters are all pirates in the 1920s (with rules on how to generate and customize them), who find themselves caught in a grand adventure.

It all begins after hearing rumors of disappearing pirates.  Despite the local chatter, the PCs and their captain hit the seas to raid what appears to be a poorly defended research vessel.  Unfortunately, not everything is as it seems, and upon attacking the much larger vessel it becomes clear that several trained soldiers are on board.  After fighting through a boarding attack (and possibly getting somewhat involved in the research vessel's crew's own internal politics), and nearly winning the day all suddenly is lost.  As a wildly enthusiastic scientist bursts above deck screaming loudly that hes found all hes been searching for, a gigantic shark is spotted a short distance away, and is closing rapidly.  Even as the scientist rants and raves about how his precious Megalodon is getting closer and closer, it soon becomes evident that the man is not wholly correct. The Shark is actually a huge shark-shaped submarine which thrusts itself out of the water and onto the research vessel.  Shark armored soldiers march out of the vessel and begin attacking, subduing almost everyone and bringing them as captives onto the Shark submarine.

Everyone awakens as the dinner guests of the Shark Submarine's Captain.  He welcomes them on board the Leviathan as he calls it, and explains that he and his crew hunt down pirates.  Those who can be redeemed are set free or even allowed to join the crew.  The adventure sort of assumes that the PCs will join his crew, albeit for only a short time.  Of course, nothing is easy.  As the Leviathan travels observant PCs can note several great white sharks fleeing the area.  Soon after, crewmen detect something easily as big as the Leviathan closing fast.  It's a real Megalodon, and it doesn't want interlopers in its territory.  Critically damaging the submarine, the Megalodon attacks the PCs and surviving crew who have to flee using the shark suits. The Megalodon must be killed or driven off before the PCs can reach the surface and, hopefully, one of their ships.  

The Good:
Djinn of the Deep is just pure, pulpy good fun.  It's a great story with plenty of opportunities for fighting, problem solving, and just plan showing off.  The partially pregenerated pirate characters make setup for a one-shot or a convention game very quick and easy. The GM tips are a nice addition, giving ways to keep the feel of the pulp genre and make the adventure more engrossing. Lastly, the maps are downright gorgeous, easily some of the best I've seen in a short adventure like this one.  

The Bad:
The adventure seems like it can get kind of rail-roady. There is a definite ideal progression to the adventure, but fortunately, that progression is damn fun.  Also, you can tell that this adventure was sort of rushed to completion since there are numerous typos and editing errors left over from converting it from Silver Gryphon Games' other game system.  Most of these proofreading and editing errors are easily figured out and don't much affect the adventure itself.  

Less easy, however, are a few points in the adventure where exactly what happens is kind of muddled and unclear.   First is the subplot involving Jack Morgan and the Professor (the one want to make sure the other does not survive so he can claim an insurance payout) -- it's an interesting dynamic that could be fun to explore if given the opportunity, but can never really be addressed because of the action that follows.  Secondly, when the Leviathan's Captain offers to let people join his crew, he states that he only has room for thirty crewmen.  He then forces them all to fight among themselves for the positions.  However, as far as I can tell, the adventure never states how many crew slots are vacant, so theoretically the adventure could grind to a halt because the PCs fight not only any NPCs, but kill each other down to the last man.  Thirdly, the adventure assumes that its easy for the PCs to find the ship after dealing with the Megalodon -- which should not be the case if the Leviathan was ever moving at all.  All of these problems are easily corrected.

Perhaps must frustrating are how some of the rules and stats are applied in this adventure. For no stated reason, most of the NPCs have been given the Hardy ability and I think there may be some typos in the stat blocks.  The Megalodon has a ridiculous d12+4 Fighting skill, placing it beyond even the greatest skill levels, apparently only to beef it up so that its -4 Parry penalty due to size is negated and so that it can swallow its prey whole more often than simply biting them.  Another issue with the Megalodon is that the writer of the adventure seemed to forget that Savage Worlds is not a hit point system.  Characters swallowed whole can try to "cut through" it, but doing so ignores the Megalodon's traits entirely, instead requiring a total of 75 points of damage (actually there is a typo that says "75 5otal"), does not allow any raises to count, and pretends the wound system does not exist.

The Ugly:
Aside from the Megalodon?  I found that the side notes in Djinn of the Deep can be difficult to read. The darkness of the background plus the background drawing sometimes makes the text muddled and hard to discern.  

Overall [7/10]:
Criticisms aside, I think Djinn of the Deep can be an incredibly entertaining adventure.  I'm fond of the setting and love the core storyline -- How can you go wrong with pirates, submarines, and giant sharks?  Most of the flaws can be overcome simply with a little GM preparation to fill in the blanks or flesh out those things the author overlooked.  A few things - most notably the Megalodon - are a bit more troubling.  I'd rather see the whole beast, and by extension, the final encounter, retooled to better fit with the mechanics Savage Worlds already has in place.  Perhaps I'll post my own version of the Megalodon here on this blog. That aside, Djinn of the Deep is everything good pulp should be.  

Content: 4/5
Presentation: 3/5
Rules: 2/5
Fun Factor: 5/5

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