Mulciber's Flute

Michael Prescott (author & illustrator)
https://www.patreon.com/posts/mulcibers-flute-17286409


1. How it got my attention.
Michael has a fantastic Patreon where he churns out these ridiculously good short adventures with top-notch illustrations at a rate that is embarrassing to every other adventure designer on the planet. I have been a patron of his for over a year, so I get notifications of his new stuff in my email.

2. Why I pulled the trigger.
Did I mention it's free? And awesome. Free and awesome.

3. First Impressions
This is one of the most "metal" things I have ever read. If all the words were boiled down into an image it would be the best cover of a heavy metal album ever, or possible the king of all 1970's panel van murals.

Think giant skull of a dead god floating in a pool below a city, reaching up to/through that city with cracks that issue evil vapors. Imagine massive stairwells leading down to castles defended by hell knights. Consider burning slopes filled with suety wasps that rob you of surcease. Behold a burning star at the bottom of an immense well, surrounded by ever-growing towers that are the monuments to the vanity of demon lords.

Yeah. All that and more. It's so good it will make you weep - painful tears of semi-coagulated blood. It made me sad because I am also working on a "hell scape" thing for Dungeon World and it will never be this metal. (Sure, it will be good in its own way, but damn! This is how it is done, son.)

The only thing I can't quite figure out is what to do with this.* I think it's purpose is to be a negadungeon. A cool place for characters to explore like moths throwing themselves at an immolating flame. Anybody who makes it out or even finds some stable perch in this well of pain will certainly have a story to tell, but as most things in it are either "just painful" or immediately lethal, I'm not sure what characters will get up to in here other than turn over rocks and gape in wonder. I think that's up to the players and GM to figure out, of course. Perhaps they make a pact with one of the demon lords. Or maybe they lure enemies they can't otherwise defeat into here and then desperately try to get out themselves.

In any case, Mulciber's Flute is a real tour-de-force of creativity. You can read it in about 10 minutes, and then spend the rest of your day figuring out how you are going to talk your players into putting their characters into this grinder!

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* Michael wrote the following in response and I just had to edit the post to include it.

Yes, I've had some other feedback recently that sometimes people aren't sure how to use these things. This place is certainly bad, but I hope it's not quite at negadungeon levels!

Many D&D adventures have this very D&D idea that going to a dangerous place should at least be financially sensible, and this is quite unlike that: there's no awesome treasure, and the most likely outcome is that some percentage of the party gets killed and essentially stuck.

The reason I made this adventure was that I always found the 'paladin in hell' picture terribly romantic, but it always seemed utterly crazy, like 'Stephen vs. Lava!' Obviously, lava wins. I wanted a hell that was both horrible but which on a much smaller scale than a 'pole of the universe', so that a party of tough PCs could theoretically strike a meaningful blow against it.

In a one-shot, I think the clearest ways to use it are:

1. Hell is bad, here are some badass PCs, go and strike a blow against it. (e.g. somehow banish Mulciber, destroy the instantiator, use earthquake magic to tip pandaemonium into the hell star, pour holy water on the hell star, etc. Probably best to let the form of the blow come from the PCs.)

2. Same, but perhaps just a reconnaissance mission. Not, 'get in and out with some loot', but a literal, "How can the next group take this thing down? Only one of you needs to live to bring word back to the surface."

3. There's a maguffin in hell, go get it. (Maybe the titular flute!)

In a campaign, the options are a little broader. I think the obvious one is:

1. There's a community above that the PCs are invested in, and the hell below is siphoning off souls and generally doing bad things.

2. There's an evil cult or church in a city, and there's a crack down to hell in the wall behind the altar.

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If you grew up in the AD&D era, the Paladin in Hell illustration should strike a deep chord within you. It is an amazing, sad, interesting thought that he might have ended up like Tar Semminus on The Burning Slopes! 

For the record, I think it's perfectly fine (maybe very desirable) to write something like this without figuring out how players will use it. Mulciber's Flute is vivid, detailed, and ripe with possibility without spelling out what the adventure will be. You can't ask for a lot more from source material. Certainly any resulting adventure won't be on rails - or if it is, it won't be Michael's fault!

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