Mad Manticores and Parrotbears! Oh My! Exploring Mortzengerstrum, The Mad Manticore Of The Prismatic


I have a fairly high bar for using adventures in my games, mostly because I have never been a GM for using pre-written adventures in my games. Outside of the occasional one shot, I prefer to avoid them. When I come across an adventure like Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak it grabs my attention. The adventure channels the darkness of an 80s fantasy movie through the lens of old Hanna Barbera cartoons.

This doesn't mean that the adventure is overtly silly in any way, instead it works like an old fairy tale that you would tell children: the darkness of the story is wrapped in a whimsical quality that almost hides the horrors that lurk beneath the surface of the story. This adventure is deadly in a way that old school adventures can be, many of the locations being murder machines that are intended to grind characters to dust. However, the near cartoonish art of Jeff Call presents the dangers with a wink and a grin that will cause characters to underestimate the dangers that they face.

I have been a fan of Trey Causey's adventure writing since I read his setting/adventure book for old school games, the fantasy/noir/pulp hybrid Weird Adventures. Weird Adventures also has a similar winking sense of humor to it. Unlike that work, Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak is written for the Dungeons & Dragons 5E rules. Causey manages to create an adventure in 30-some pages that is engaging and evocative, while hinting at a larger world of adventure that can be explored by characters who might be lucky enough to survive encountering Mortzengersturm.

There are a number of new creatures and monsters, many of which are based upon familiar D&D monster tropes, while making them into monsters that are whimsical and almost sad. Creatures like the Parrotbear, a bear-like creature covered in green feathers and with the head of a parrot, are the product of the transformative magical abilities of Mortzengersturm. The ultimate goal of the adventure is to find the source of Mortzengersturm magic, the powerful artifact known as the Whim-Wham Stone. Causey provides a number of different ways to start the adventure and launch the characters onto the path of Mortzengersturm and his powerful artifact. While sounding silly, there is a depth to the Whim-Wham Stone because it can also "infect" the user with necrotic energy through prolonged exposure. This is an example of the fairy tale logic I mentioned. It is easy to underestimate the artifact because of the silly name of it, but the danger lurks just beneath the surface. Maybe, because of that silliness, it becomes easier to draw the players and their characters into the adventure.

Mortzengersturm is a manticore with a monocle, who is either a manticore that has mastered transformation magic, or a wizard who has changed themselves into manticore through their spells. It doesn't really matter which, but the writing fleshes out Mortzengersturm, making them a villain with motivations and a personality.
It is always difficult to write about adventures. You have to straddle that line between giving enough information to convince others that the adventure is worth checking out, while trying to not spoil too much information. I don't think that this adventure will be for everyone, because it is can be a meat grinder in places, with an old school approach to adventure design that emphasizes player skill as much as character ability. You have to think about what you are having your characters do during the adventure in order for them to survive Mortzengersturm sanctum. If you aren't a fan of this sort of an approach, the odds are that Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak isn't going to be the adventure for you. If you are the type of GM who buys a new adventure just to mine it for creatures or hooks for your home game, this might also not be for you. I can see using a parrotbear in a dungeon that I am running, but I have a different approach to my D&D games than a lot of other GMs.

You are, however, missing out on a clever and inventive adventure. If you are a fan of the offbeat and unusual, and don't mind an adventure that doesn't look out for the safety of the group's characters, then Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak is probably for your group. And, as an introduction to the world of Azurth, you're getting more than just an adventure. You also get an all to brief introduction to the world, a map of Yanth Country (an area of Azurth) with very brief descriptions, and an introduction to The Cosmic Cat. The Cosmic Cat is a Caterpillar (as in Alice In Wonderland) type of creature that characters will more fully encounter in The Cloud Castle of Azurth, the next adventure in the series.

It is always good to get a glimpse into Causey's imagination, and I think that fantasy fans will find Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak to be an entertaining and engaging adventure. I know that I did.

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