deep caRbon observAtory
I have read Patrick of False Machine’s Deep Carbon Observatory, an adventure, or setting, or even campaign. The module compares favorably with other contemporary offerings, such as the better LOTFP modules, but has its own approach and unique feel. The adventure focuses on a riverine expedition in a sort of point based sandbox, suddenly flooded by the collapse of an ancient dam. Rumors of mountains of ancient gold beneath the recently collapsed dam’s (now drained) lake have presumably drawn the party, as they have other (horrible) NPC treasure hunters. Beyond the dung-ages horror of a flooded and starving landscape is an upriver journey through a variety of creepy nautical monsters (crabs, cuttlefish, pike, frogs) all subtly warped and horrifically described. The journey leads to the dam, its dying guardian golems and ultimately a lake bed of ancient and unnatural weirdness that hides the “Deep Carbon Observatory” itself. The observatory is an entrance to the Underdark, and not Gygax’s glowing mushrooms and petulant Drow Underdark, but False Machine’s utterly alien, beautifully psychotic Underdark.
|A Suitable Cover|
Broken into four rough sections (A town, a point crawl, the dam/lake, and the observatory) Deep Carbon has plenty of room for adventure, and the only limit on this is the presumed success of a very nasty NPC party if the PCs don’t push onward at a furious pace. I like the scale of the adventure, especially because so many of the individual vignettes presented are compelling enough that I think a group of players could enjoyably spend at least a session on many of them. This makes me ambivalent about the NPC party, who while one of the best (ok one of many wonderful) elements in the adventure could act to force the players’ hands. The NPC party and its place in Deep Carbon Observatory is also somewhat hard to pin down without some page flipping, but that's a minor concern, and their inclusion creates a powerful and compelling enemy for the party.
Ultimately Deep Carbon Observatory is a thought provoking and wonderful adventure, almost novelistic in its scope and strangeness. The author drops magnificent ideas and imagery haphazardly on every page of a quality that many adventure designer would convert into an entire campaign. Additionally there are some novel approaches to town encounters in the first section of the adventure that are thought provoking as a means of creating tension, and cause and effect without minimizing player agency. Sadly Deep Carbon Observatory suffers a bit from a slavishness to the DIY aesthetic and a lack of polish, but other than some aggravating page transitions this is easily ignored. Additionally, the module’s scope makes it feel fragmentary (perhaps unavoidable given its size) at times and it repeatedly includes the lamentable sin of confusing maps.