Since I interviewed Ryan Thompson of Appendix N Entertainment yesterday I thought it would be fun to review another one of his products. The Child Thieves is a short adventure written for Old School Essentials and published in 2021. Everything is official about this book, with the cover page, attribution to Old School Essentials, etc. It's pretty much a textbook example of how to use the OSE license, OGL, and so forth, and anyone looking to publish works using OSE could use this adventure as a good guideline. I will be reviewing the physical book, an A5 staplebound 'zine that is part of an offset print run.
The cover is whimsical and cartoonish, done in full cover and showing a couple of humanoid rats in the process of kidnapping a couple of young, shocked looking kids. As an aside, since becoming a parent violence against children is something I've had a hard time dealing with. The conceit of this adventure deals with a Pied Piper-ish scenario where children are led away by a ratcatcher, and the Referee is explicitly told that the children are destined for sacrifice, but that's the extent of it. No timetable is given, nor is there direct violence against the kids. It basically exists to motivate the players into investigating the sewers, which I have no problem with.
The table of contents lists the artists used: a smattering of stock art, but the rest is a who's who list of OSR artists: Carlos Castilho, Denis McCarthy, Stacie Joy, Diogo Nogueira, and more. The art is used to great effect in the book, filling all available blank space. Actually, that's one thing I'd like to mention: the book is 28-pages, but there's a *ton* of information. Thompson is really good at providing only the minimum amount of information needed for a Referee to run the adventure to maximize content.
Without going into too many specifics -- it's a pretty standard dungeon (sewer) crawl, written for a character range of levels 3-5 -- there are a couple of things I really like about the adventure:
It's dynamic. There's a table for determining where the children are being kept when the adventurers delve, and another one for where some of the named NPCs and monsters are. I really like this mechanic, and have been using something similar in my stuff.
There's a robust table of rumors, and certain characters (divine and arcane casters) with high ability scores are able to discern truth from fiction regarding rumors that touch on their specialties (such as divine casters knowing the truth about cults).
Like any good OSR adventure, there are foes too tough for the average party level, and in these cases the creatures can be avoided, bargained with, or otherwise dealt with in a non-combat fashion.
As may be expected, rats play heavily into the theme of the adventure, and there's a chance that if the adventurers rest in the sewers there's a chance that curious rats steal gear while the character's aren't looking. I like the idea of this happening and then the adventurers stumbling across a room with some suspiciously familiar looking gear in it.
The adventure draws from both the Classic and Advanced Tomes, and helpfully provides stats for monsters (in both the area where encountered and the Appendix) in case a Referee does not have one or the other.
Thompson provides his own Appendix N of inspirational books, movies, and music that touch on the themes of the adventure, which is a nice touch, because it helps to set the tone of the session.