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Rappan Athuk» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Too big to fail... rss

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Clark Timmins
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Rappan Athuk. A huge dungeon with a publication history to match. It began ca. 1977 like almost every other dungeon did - a home-brew adventure site for "First Edition" rules. Growing in leaps and bounds, it soon was a sprawling mega-dungeon of death - and was still a home-brew. In 2000 it was published for the first time as a 3.0 OGL product. Or perhaps "partially published" is more correct. Because in 2001 two additional volumes were published, as well as a "bonus" item, and in 2003 it gained a setting (of sorts) with the publication of some surrounding wilderness areas.

This "first gen" published dungeon is comprised of these significant items:

R1: Rappan Athuk - The Dungeon of Graves: The Upper Levels
R2: Rappan Athuk - The Dungeon of Graves: The Middle Levels
R3: Rappan Athuk 3 The Dungeon of Graves: The Lower Levels

And:
R1S: Rappan Athuk: The Upper Levels - Bonus R2-47 Special Encounter
R1W: Rappan Athuk: The Wilderness Areas
R2W: Rappan Athuk 2: The Wilderness Areas...Continued

As presented in this iteration, the dungeon was 3rd Edition, vast, and comprised of fifteen levels (give or take about a dozen - some levels were, so to speak, "split" levels). The breakdown is thus:

R1: Levels Ground/1/2/3/3A/4A, 52 pages
R2: Levels 4/5/6/6A/7/7A,8/9A, 98 pages
R3: Levels 9/9B/9C/10/10A/11/11A/12/12A/13/13A/14/15, 114 pages
R1S: Encounter, 6 pages
R1W: Wilderness, 20 pages
R2W: Wilderness, 14 pages

Let's call is about 20 pages per level.

This cornucopia of resources was immensely popular and then came the 3.5 revision. Rather than let any random Dungeon Master convert the dungeon to the system, the authors combined the previous six items into one big box set (with the obligatory three booklets) and revised the materials for the 3.5 revision. Plus, they added more stuff.

Rappan Athuk Reloaded

Reloaded: gives you all of the "first gen" areas and levels plus levels 1A, 3B, 8A, 9D, 10B, 10C, in 390 pages (total). Let's call it about 26 pages per level.

For a gigantic dungeon, a gigantic box set seems to me to be a pretty good way to go. Much easier (not to mention more organizationally intelligible) than the preceding assortment of products. More consistent and a smidge cheaper, too. So naturally the next iteration returned to its roots with the, ahem, plethora of products.

Along comes Pathfinder. Probably figuring that a lot of potential customers hadn't jumped from 3.5 to Pathfinder (and probably understanding that virtually no potential customers had jumped from 3.5 to 4, heh heh), the designers cast about for a second system that would, in effect, cover all the bases. They picked Swords & Wizardry. Supposedly, the closest thing to "First Edition" gaming available as a supported system. Cynics might note that the company publishing Rappan Athuk also published Swords & Wizardry. I personally have limited experience with the S&W flavor of Rappan Athuk, so from this point I'm going to focus on the Pathfinder flavor. Just know that many products that contain rules-specific stuff are published in two versions. Some few products (things like, say, the battle maps) are system agnostic and are published in only one flavor; a couple (like the Pregenerated characters) have both systems under once cover.

This third major commercial iteration was funded by a hugely successful Kickstarter that reached numerous stretch goals, each of which resulted in another product. By the end it was getting silly. First, lets hit the basics. Remember, this is focused on Pathfinder - for a lot of this there was also a S&W version.

Rappan Athuk (Pathfinder Version)

Don't be fooled by the pleasant faux-leather cover. This thing will TPK. Early. And often. At a ridiculous 673 pages it will certainly strain the arms of any game master that lugs around the print version. And if the faux-leather bugs you, the publisher also offers it in real leather (it will use up your gaming budget for the next couple of years, however).

Faux-Leather: gives you all of the "Reloaded" areas and levels plus levels 0A, 0B, 0C, 1B, 1C, 2A, 2B, 3C, 4B, 5A, 5B, 8B, 12B, 12C, 13B, 13C, 14A, 14B, and 14C. Plus a slew of new rules, expanded wilderness areas, new monsters, and stuffs. Let's call it about 44 pages per level. Because clearly this was not enough, products were then added as stretch goals in the following order.

Rappan Athuk Pregenerated Characters
Rappan Athuk Player's Guide
Rappan Athuk Battle Maps
Cyclopean Deeps - Part 1: Down to Ques Querax (Pathfinder)
Cyclopean Deeps - Part 2: Cult of the Khryll (Pathfinder)
Rappan Athuk GM Screen
Rappan Athuk Bestiary (Pathfinder)
Rappan Athuk Side View Map
Rappan Athuk Battle Mat
Rappan Athuk Level 7B (Pathfinder)
Rappan Athuk Original Notes

Almost all of these are pretty self-explanatory. They're all either source-books for the dungeon itself, or they're additional dungeon areas. Except for the Original Notes which presents a version of the dungeon that precedes the first-published version. One of the great things about having a mega-dungeon is that nobody has ever explored all of it, so publishing... err... discovering whole new areas is pretty simple. So all this stuff - all the Kickstarter stuff - was published in 2012.

At this point, the publisher stated definitively that Rappan Athuk was the most mega- of all mega-dungeons. Rumors started to circulate in smoky back rooms however, that maybe Rappan Athuk wasn't the biggest. So instead of settling for a Mega-Dungeon, the publisher decided to go for a Giga-Dungeon. And thus came a planned monthly (actually irregular) series of expansions, starting in 2013. These various expansions were fairly modest in scope (each one being about the size of a "normal" scenario). They sort of filled in the pieces between the big dungeon areas. These separate expansions subsequently were gathered into:

Rappan Athuk Expansions Volume I (Pathfinder)

Which presents several new wilderness areas, including a brand-new multi-level entrance to the dungeon. It adds in another 165 pages of stuff. As you will note, it's "Volume 1" of a planned infinity of volumes. As long as they keep selling, they'll keep expanding. It's an open ended dungeon. It's cool and all, but... I really miss the organizational intelligibility of the old Box Set.

The whole dungeon described in a nutshell - it doesn't have a workable ecology, a logical origin, proper air circulation, or even a realistic economy. It's a dungeon. A freaking big dungeon. It's so big that many of the maps look like "regional" maps, not dungeon maps. It will take characters from Level 1 to TPK... err... Level 20 without ever needing to go up for air. Yep, they can spend their entire miserable careers inside the dungeon. It's not called the Dungeon of Graves for nothing. Adventurers go in. But they don't come out.
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john Whyte
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A great history. I just picked up the pathfinder edition via pdf and I'm hemming and hawing about reading it and possibly pitching it.
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...It sounds like even the most recent PDF would weigh half a ton.

This is excess in all its glory!
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