Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 51-75

It should be noted that even the decent/good adventures have The Usual Dungeon problems.

Dungeon 51
Nbod’s Room is an interesting little piece. Describing a haunted room in an inn, it’s actually a locale for the party to visit over and over again, teasing out the secrets of the various magic items in the room, mostly teleporters that take you to different adventure locales.

Ailamere’s Lair was a Dragon adventure that was zoomed out to include elements about the dragon and his environment not usually found in a Kill The Dragon adventure.

Dungeon 53
Clarshh’s Sepulchre is a little adventure with a nice village and a decent exploration elements. Clues, a social element, it’s not so bad by Dungeon standards.

Steelheart does a good job of going just a little bit more on each encounter to turn them from perfunctory things in to something that feels a little more realistic.

Dungeon 54
Unhallowed Ground is a Name of the Rose knockoff. It needs work, but the monks come off as human and the core structure is good.

Redcap’s Revenge felt forced and blunt in places, but is one of those adventures that, with a rewrite, could turn in to something better.

Dungeon 55
Umbra, a Sigal adventure, is linear as fuck. As a con game, edited down to be comprehensible, it could be a fine time, if you wanted a linear adventure

Dungeon 56
Janx’s Jinx is a nice low-key adventure with strong social elements. It feels very real, and very human.

Dungeon 57
Cloaked in Fear is a little side-trek with a lot of good frightened villager stuff going on in it. DM torture porn, but a guilty pleasure.

Dungeon 58
The Baron’s Eyrie is a Ravelnloft with nice imagery and is quite tight, but Dungeon standards. Factions, maps, it’s a decent all around adventure.

Dungeon 59
The Mother’s CUrse ia hag adventure that FEELS like a hag adventure; quite the rare thing. Good atmosphere & complications in need of a MASSIVE edit.

Dungeon 62
Rat Trap had potential, even though it featured wererats in a city. A good core concept not taken advantage of.

Dungeon 65
Knight of the Scarlet Sword has a lot going on at the same time, which is always a plus in an adventure. Sandboxy with a suggested timeline.

Unkindness of Ravens is top notch. It’s got great atmosphere, a “fantasy but not D&D” vibe, timeline, a little bit of Nancy Drew or Scooby Doo thing going on. Great adventure.

Dungeon 66
Enormously Inconvenient has a lot of giant animal tropes in it as well as a decent wilderness map. Inoffensive … an accomplishment for Dungeon.

Dungeon 67
Witches’ Brew has a richness of style and atmosphere that’s rare. Needs a MASSIVE edit to cut it down.

Eye of the Storm is a side trek that’s just pure chaos … AND I FUCKING LOVE CHAOS! Just a series of complications to take care of, but the potential here is wonderful, given the … madcap? Nature of the village.

Falls Run, for Masque of the Red Death, channels Call of Cthulhu quite hard and does a decent job, railroad or no.

Dungeon 68
The Trouble with In-Laws is that rare adventure that is organized well but falls flat in the imagination category. One dimensional and lacking flavor.

Merkin’s Magic is notable because of the lack of a Tolkien vibe in it. It’s like fantasy from the 60’s or 70’s, out of time.

Dungeon 70
Homunculus Stew has a nice folklore vibe going on, even if it is three encounters long.

Ssscaly Thingsss has great swamp atmosphere and A LOT going on at the same time. Head & shoulders above most of Dungeon.

Kingdom of the Ghouls is widely acknowledged as a great adventure, and I agree. Social elements, good atmosphere, and an underdark that doesn’t feel generic.

Dungeon 71
Wildspawn and Priestly Secrets both have some qualities that I can appreciate, but deep flaws that require a lot of work to get past.

Dungeon 72
No Stone Unturned continues Peter Spahns generally high level of writing. A good variety of situations with very real motivations.

Plundering Poppof is a B&E job in a wizards home Good atmosphere.

Dungeon 73
Quoitine Quest is a quiet little adventure with a good amount of interesting roleplaying offered.

Dungeon 74
Scourge of Scalabar is full of gnomes, gunpowder, and submarines, WHICH I LOATHE, but leaves things mostly open for the party to explore solutions.

Vale of Weeping WIllows has a nice eerie vibe, even if it is just a side trek.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 3 Comments

The Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper

By Ben Laurence
Necrotic Gnome Productions
Labyrinth Lord
Level … 4?

This is a 25 page adventure in the From the Vats zine. It describes a five level dungeon with 32 rooms of a sunken palace/home of a LONG dead sorcerer lord. It brings the OD&D and does a GREAT job of describing a slightly alien environment, underwater wizard, that is still approachable by the players. It brings the weird and it JUST on the normal side of gonzo, clearly D&D and yet a GREAT environment. The picture of OD&D. Vivid imagery, great encounters, weird treasure. It’s let down by the formatting, and deserves a second edition that formats it better. Oh, it’s been a great week! TWO great adventures this week, and, weirdly, both with an underwater component and/or ruins sticking out of the water. I’m bouncing in my chair; a clear indicator of being excited.

Crumbling steps spill from the shore directly in to the sea. A seaweed choked stone path can be glimpsed winding down in to the depths. A broken onion dome sticks out of the water, forlorn, the roost of seagulls. That’s good. It conjures up imagery and feelings. You build the rest of it in your head and any description that does that is the BEST kind of description. SHort. Puchy. Evocative. Easy to scan. It injects a seed deep in to your imagination and you get to build from it, the way a brain does.

Here’s another example: “A glass column dominates the center of the room, through which runs an eerie beam of green light. The column is cracked and filled with water; where the cracks show, motes of green light spill from the glass into the surrounding water. The light emanates from a hole in the ceiling at the top of the glass column. At its bottom, copper tubes run from its base into the wall. Clustered around the cracks in the column are many Luminous Jellies” That does a GREAT job of building a picture of the room. Great language, building, what do I see first and then what do I notice. I should also note that is just about my limit on schnitzengruben. Any longer and we get in to Pay Per Word dreck and problems with scanning. That description length is right at the limit of what I can stand to reference during play.

There’s reference material located after those descriptions. A description of the curse if you steal the giant pearl, or what happens when you touch the thing. The writing here is focused in a way that few adventures are. Evocative. Terse. To the point. Focused on PLAY.

The encounters proper are great. A floor, red from silt, that can get stirred up … FILLED WITH RED PARASITIC WORMS! Aiiii! Things floating on/above pedastals that you can fuck with, flicking quartz balls, a necrophidius that FEELS like it should be here! Traps of rapidly growing razor coral to trap you. The entire place FEELs dangerous, and wondrous, and alien,

I love almost everything about this adventure. There’s a nice little overview that describes the environment around the palace … as seen by the party when they approach. I wish more adventures did that to orient both the DM and players. The wanderers feel fresh, and those with a little description (more than just stats) have great little one and two sentence writeups. Those without don’t seem to need like, like schools of fish or luminous jellies floating by. They feel RIGHT and you want to use them and describe them. You’re excited as your mind races to find uses. The treasure is great, lots to loot in both “normal” treasure and in inlay pried from unremovable things and in the weird and wonderful magic items. There’s great guidelines for restocking and continuing time within the place as the party may return. Even the fucking underwater rules presented, one just one page, are not odious … which is indeed a feat! ANd the map, because it’s underwater, is essentially three dimensional with multiple entrances in to the location.

It does have a formatting problem. It’s BARELY acceptable. It generally keeps most of the description in the first-ish paragraph and DM’ish notes/reference material in the second paragraph … and that’s what I mean by barely acceptable. It’s uses single column, large text, and little formatting otherwise except giving some shading to monster stats to make them easier to pull out (great!) What this needs is some bullet points, indentation, more breaks, and occasionally a sentence moved around from the description to the notes and vicey versey. Techniques to improve the scannability and readability of the adventure. As is it veers quite close to the Wall of Text. That USUALLY means too many words but I think this is the rare example of focused writing that STILL faces Wall of Text issues. The rooms that use more breaks, and italics, and indentation (like room 15m the Hall of Bio Horrors) are the more readable ones.

Do Not be deterred! This thing is great! I’m fond of saying that most underwater adventures don’t FEEL like underwater adventures. This is by far the closest I’ve seen. It feels like a different environment, with the descriptions and encounters to match. Easily a keeper, even if it DOES deserve a second edition to take care of the formatting issues.

It’s included as a part of the From the Vats zine/thing. It’s $0 on DriveThru, which means you would be a FOOL to not pick it up, if for no other reason than to argue with me. The preview is of the zine, but the adventure is first in the thing so you get to see some of it. It’s just the wanderers table and the intro/overview, but I like both of those and while not the strongest parts of the adventure, they are QUITE above average. http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/151451/From-the-Vats

Posted in Level 4, Reviews, The Best | 3 Comments

The Towers of the Weretoads

By Michael Raston
Gorgzu Games
Labyrinth Lord
Level 1?

Are you in need of a breeding factory that spews out torrents of mutated weretoads into your campaign world? Do your adventurers enjoy exploring slimy, wet ruins inhabited by depraved, vile creatures? The Towers of the Weretoads is a mini-dungeon you can plop down in the edges of any of the lakes/fresh water bodies in your campaign world. It’s filled with treasure, danger and slime.

This is a six page adventure in a three level partially submerged manor/keep. It uses the one page format to present the levels with a little introduction page, a title page, and one page for new monsters. Good imagery and nice formatting for play are significant strengths, while the it suffers from generic magic treasure, a little sameness in the monsters, and a slightly confusing ground level/outside environment. It’s also free, so …

The imagery in this adventure is great and works well with the one page format. Towers, located in shallows of a great lake, the tide coming in and out revealing various portions. Slimy stone stairs. Near-naked slimy warty idiotic men, drowsy. A flooded basement a soup for zygotes. Crude stone doors on rusting hinges. Creaky ladders down housed in a dead black soggy tree. Stone pots fill with writhing misshapen beige tadpoles. The outside, near the manor has puddles filled with countless toad eggs, and young weretoads croaking pityingly and dragging themselves through the mud to bit .. .It goes on and on. This is all strong imagery, tersly written, and it puts a picture in to your head. The outside, a slightly submerged manor, pools or mud and water, with slime and eggs stacked up in piles against the walls, trees, rubble, etc, and the young weretoads crawling towards you … This sort of tersely written imagery, integrated in to a one page dungeon, is a great example of form and function combining to deliver a useful tool for the DM. Did I mention “toad-bears eating corpse mushrooms growing on piles of long dead adventurers …” and all in that soggy partially flooded environment. Grooooovy!

This is a collection of one page levels, three of them, with an intro page to tie things togethers. I’m fond of these collections of one-pagers, although they do have limitations. They put everything in one place that you need to run the level well. This one uses color to effectively call out certain sections. The downside is that none of these one-pagers does a very good job of presenting a large environment. At best they can combine a lot of one-pagers in to a larger area, as this one does. That’s good, I like it and it’s a good way to present these smaller “lair sized locations.

Mundane treasure is good, with most of it being nice & creepy objects for resale. It falls down in several places when it says “Horde XIV P106LL) in a watertight chest.” I’m not sure why it’s doing this .. there appears to plenty of room to actually describe a treasure found instead of using a random roll. I don’t get it.

When the enemies show up THEY. SHOW. UP. d20 weretoads building effigies. D20 weretoads patrolling. D20 weretoads transporting spawn-pots. Bulging eyes and lolling tongues aside, the combats here tend to be with lots of opponents. There’s generally nothing wrong with that, but in this case the environments they are found in are a little smaller than I would like for that quantity. It feels a bit off. It DOES have the effect of being above to explore most the level without combat, until you meet the big group on that level. There’s a nice exploratory and/or push your luck element there that’s good.

This is PWYW (with a current price of $0) at Drive Thru. The preview is GREAT, showing you two of three one-page levels. This is easily worth the price/time. You can practically run it without even having read it first. This is EXACTLY the sort of supplement you want when you’re looking for something to run tonight.

Posted in Level 1, Reviews, The Best | 8 Comments

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 26-50

Dungeon 26
The Inheritance is one of the stronger Dungeon adventures, featuring an assault on a small keep/manor taken over by humanoids. It’s got a decent sandbox feel to it and, with work, could be a home base for the party, kicking off a campaign.

Both the Cure & the Quest and Nine-tenths of the Law have decent portions. 9/10’s has a good urban vibe going on with characters that make sense while Cure/Quest has a couple of good encounters with some serious issues around them. Both could be salvaged with a lot of work.

Dungeon 27
Bride for a Fox continues my obsession with OA. Almost every OA adventure that appeared in Dungeon, including this one, is pretty good. If you can deal with the setting. These would also be good rethemed for one of those modern indie storytelling fantasy/folklore rpg’s.

Courier Service has decent encounters but doesn’t really use them very well to make a cohesive adventure.

Dungeon 28
Visitors from Above had some shitty Spelljammer ship (grounded) explorations but a MUCH better second half with a wizard in a mine. A varied environment, three-dimensional map, lots of potential.

Night of Fear is Yet Another Shitty Shapechanger mission, but it did have a nice table of NPC responses as an organizational highlight.

I like Sleepless because of the social powder keg that could turn in to crazed combat. Lots of factions, lots of good imagery … surrounded by WAY too much description. It’s one of the better Dungeon adventures.

Dungeon 29
Mightier than the Sword is absurd, in that magical wonderful way that D&D adventures can go. It’s got a village at arms with each other over an absurd premise: the invention of a metal nib for quills. Taken to its logical conclusion, everyone has an opinion and are more than willing to put them forth … with vigor. This adventure does not qualify for my overused “Decent” label, but is actually good.

Dungeon 30
Wrastle with Bertrum has a nice tavern to steal, but I’m not sure I’d run it as an adventure.

Thiondar’s Legacy is an honest to goodness ADVENTURE. It’s got an epic vibe that many try for and few manage. Wordy, but sticky in your head.

Dungeon 31
Beyond the Glittering Veil has well developed NPC’s and location, in a city of undead, that also feels real. Not simulationist realism, but rather NOT fucking up the suspension of disbelief. The massively overwritten text is a real problem.

Local Legend had a good idea, with a nice 100 Bushels of Rye thing going on, but lapses in to being contrived.

Dungeon 32
Elf in the House is a Mansion Murder with potential, but it unrunnable due to the way the thing is formatted.

Dungeon 33
That Island Charm runs almost like a farce for the first half, and I LUV farce in D&D. A bunch of castaways INSIST that things are a certain way, when its clearly not that way. Wonderful!

The Siege of Kratys Frehold gives the party control of an army and a siege. “Here’s a bunch of resources, here’s the locale and here’s the goal. Make it happen.” Needs prep, but, fuck, it’s Dungeon, everything in it needs prep.

Dungeon 34
Isle of the Abbey is above average for Dungeon. Again, it’s a location with the party having a goal and the freedom, mostly, to pursue it and reclaim a lighthouse for the guild of mariners.

Dungeon 35
The Whale shows how good Wolfgang Baur used to be. Great social setup, good consequences, a background that DRIVES action instead of being trivia … it’s a great big mess, in a good way.

Ghost of Mistmoor is a decent haunted house adventure, better than U1. Good imagery and good DM advice.

Dungeon 37
The adventures in this issues are all at a consistently high level of quality, which was quite rare for Dungeon.

Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb is much loved and does Tomb of Horrors better than Tomb of Horrors did. Great imagery, good setups, less forced than ToH.

Dungeon 38
Horror’s Harvest was a Ravenloft mostly-social adventure with pod people in a village. If this were rewritten/reformatted you could have a good adventure; it’s VERY disorganized.

Dungeon 39
Below Vulture Point is a small mountain lair that has a nice three-dimensional environment but needs better descriptions that are more evocative.

Last of the Iron Horse could be mistaken for an adventure from Fight On! A lot of adventure packed in to a small ten room complex with evil little fairy tale-like dwarves.

Fountains of Health is aimed at people with second grade reading skills, but has a lot of classic encounters and a decent OD&D/basic thing going on.

Dungeon 40
Son of the Fens has a good premise and nice imagery but needs better rewards and is quite tough for first levels.

Dungeon 41
Lady of the Mists has a slow melancholy feel to it, in spite of its wordiness.

Dungeon 44
Hot Day in L/Trel takes place over a couple of weeks in a city on fire. The city seems alive and everything is a hook. Great.

Dungeon 45
Rudwilla’s Stew has a basic D&D vibe going on with that kind of folklore vibe that is one of the things that wins me over. Jersey accents for the bugbears is a turnoff.

Prism Keep is a nice adventure with good imagery and encounters and puzzles and so on. It’s going to take some serious work to get it in to good fighting trim, but it’s got good lines.

Dungeon 46
Dovedale has an forest folklore thing going for it, with talking animals and old style goblins that don’t exist just to be hacked to death. You suck if you don’t like this one.

Goblin Fever had a nice idea but ruined it.

Iron Orb of the Duergar is a tough nut to crack. Good ideas, allies, craziness, and sticky writing. High level and NOT a shit show is enough to make it notable, if not reccomended.

Dungeon 47
Both the Assassin WIthin and Fraggart’s Contraption have nice ideas and outlines but serious serious flaws that keep them from being good without a lot of work.

Dungeon 48
Them Apples, Melody, and Oracle at Sumbar all deserve better than they got from their writing. There are various ways to save all three … but why would you want to?

Dungeon 49
North of Narborel lacks color but has enough elements that are above average, for Dungeon, to make it worth looking in to for pirate towns, etc.

Dungeon 50
Vaka’s Curse and Back to the Beach are both small things pretty well done. Vaka could be included in any sea voyage adventure as an additional complication, while Back to the Beach has possibilities for longer term integration in to a campaign.

The Object of Desire has issues but a couple of hours should fix it up and make it fit for play. The final location FEELS wondrous, and getting rid of some of the deus ex shit should be pretty easy.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 3 Comments

The Blood Pharaoh

By Jayson Gardner
Silver Bulettes
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 5-7

The party is hired by a caravan to guard a mysterious cargo. What can be so important to require a full group of 4th-6th level adventurers?

This is a 22 page “linear event” type adventure which has you escorting a caravan. Linear events. Nonsensical maps. Lots & lots of combat. At least there’s a lot of read-aloud? Oh … wait …

This adventure has some SERIOUS issues with making sense.

Ok, so Pharoah Bob goes to some kingdom and dies. His body gets shoved in a crate and a caravan hired to take him back home. This, then, is the very first thing in this adventure that doesn’t make sense. He appears to have no retainers and sending him home is done by … the king of the place he was visiting? Isn’t he supposed to be a living god, with lots of loyal followers? I can buy in to the dead foreign dignitary bit, but the rest of the thing makes no sense to me.

Parts of the initial timeline make no sense. You’re hired, and meet the caravan … at night .. a few hours before sunrise. You set off immediately, travel a couple of hours, and then make camp. Later, you break camp, travel a couple of hours, come across an inn, and then stop for the night at mid-morning. It just makes no sense at all!

There’s a hex crawl portion. But there’s no hex crawl map even though it’s referred to repeatedly. Other wilderness maps have no scale on them … and I think it’s clear the scale varies widely on them. You’re supposed to roll twice per hex for encounters on a small wandering table … which has a 50% chance of having an encounter. And then at night you roll at least three times, meaning encounters are assured. This seems pretty excessive, especially for an early edition game with healing issues. And the wandering table, just listing a few monsters, can’t really support this quantity of wandering play. It’s like someone through it in as an afterthought.

The encounters are linear. “Night of day one” you get to have an encounter with a wild boar running through camp. Night three a demon shows up. Day three there’s some goblins up ahead. And so it goes. The read-aloud, of which there is at times PAGES worth (night three, I’m looking at you!) assumes you kill things. No talking to the goblins, the readaloud says “I’ve never seen such combat prowess!” and then goes on for a lot more …

This is just someone writing down some combat encounters and then expanding them with a fuck ton of read-aloud. Not even the addition of NPC’s named Magic Master and Stealthy Steve can save it from itself.

It’s PWYW from DriveThru, hanging out at $1. The preview is one of those “page flippers” and it WAY too small to read at all, only giving a basic overview of the layout style.

Posted in Reviews | 2 Comments

The Dragon’s Heart

By M. Greis
Greis Games
Labyrinth Lord
Level 1-3

In the deep, it has awoken. Hidden in the ruins of an old dwarven kingdom awaits a powerful relic, and an army kobolds are on the march to retrieve it. Dare the heroes enter this ancient place, and will they find the relic before the army arrives. In a race against time the adventures may unleash the greatest evil, while trying to save the world from a grim fate.

This is a twenty page single-level dungeon describing an abandoned dwarf hold, with eighteen rooms described on seven pages.. Good factions and decent read-aloud and DM text make for a good journeyman dungeon. This does a good job of presenting a nice mythic vibe in parts of it, using some techniques from various blogs and media. I recall reviewing another adventure from Greis Games, The Sunken Temple, and was favorably impressed. A Danish translation, this adventure presents a good baseline level to measure adventure against. It covers all bases, from hooks to wanderers to encounters, at a level I find Acceptable.

Let’s cover that mythic vibe first. The adventure does a good job of making the events feel important without it being The End Of The World. In reality it’s no more important than the Caves of Chaos, but the difference here is that the threat FEELS real. The backstory is only a column and describes THE dragon. Not A dragon but THE dragon. This is a technique that can be used to great effect, presenting a creature as THE creature. The adventure doesn’t present the dragon as the only one, but the text implies it was the first with that name. A great enemy, defeated, but hanging on in death, now only its heart, made of gold, remains. There are several blogs describing this technique, and of course various media and folklore also. Calling it THE, giving it only a heart, of gold … it calls out to all of that folklore and imagery of our youth. It calls to its minions, a more subtle Suaron-like influence, even to the point of having a kobold shaman/prophet called Speaker for the Dragon … ala Mouth of Sauron. The halls are full of dwarf bodies, from a former battle with The Dragon, which adds to the SOMETHING IMPORTANT HAPPENED HERE vibe. Then it combines with some room elements that presents WONDERS in the dwarf hold as truly that, truly giving that feel of lost civilization greater than now that came with Moria and the like. This FEELS like an adventure in a place greater than yourselves, and its communicated pretty well.

To this is added hooks. Not just one sentence “caravan guard” hooks, but a paragraph or two for each. There’s enough detail to communicate motivation adequately and get the DM’s imagination running so they can fill in the rest. Then there’s the rumor table, telling you actually useful things about the situation in the dungeon, and other factions that may be present, all communicated in a style that represents a little vignette, in only two sentences. And then there’s the wandering table. Most of these, creatures and events, have a little bit more to them, so they are doing something. Even the ghouls are “responding to noise and on the prowl”, the shortest, conjures up imagery of them crawling along, furtively, looking for their next ravenous meal. Finally, there’s the timer. How to solve the one hour work day? The Dragon calls to its old followers and a large band/army of kobolds is responding, you can hear their horns and drums in the distance. There’s this sense of potential energy in it. And then there’s the factions: a bugbear and his band, the kobolds, an NPC treasure hunter party, and a religious sect that wants to bury the dead dwarves. This liven the place up and it truly feels like they add to the mystery and turn it from a hack mission to an exploration mission. I note that several of these elements, from the timer to the factions, were also present in The Sunken Temple, and in both used to good effect.

And, as in The Sunken Temple, the read-aloud and DM notes are both a strength and weakness. The read-aloud only lasts couple of sentences but does a decent, but not rockstar level, ability to convey a feeling. Wisps of web sway in an unseen breeze. Air heavy with dust. Bodies covered in cobwebs and white and black tiles covered in dust that make them appear grey. Stones are “mighty” and there are sounds of dripping water. And then there’s “for awhile you lose all sense of time” and “you’re brought back by …”, these first person sections being the weakest of the writing. Likewise the DM text could be a little more focused and formatted a little better to call out different sections better. Which is not to say its bad, but just that its not perfect and little more thought and focus could really punch it up a lot. The mundane treasure usually gets a little description while the magic items tend to be just book items “a potion of levitation” and could use more improvement.

The initial text, up to the keys, is a good “read once” type that you should not have to refer to again and is a quick read with bullet points and call out. The “appendix” information after the keys is most monster stats and the like, leaving the encounters proper a feel of a separate section that you can reference … which is exactly what I’m looking for in a supplement.

Multiple entrances, a chance to make a pact with the dragons heart, or abuse it for power … there’s an interactivity here that most adventures lack.d

This is $2 on DriveThru, and worth every penny. The preview is six pages and shows you the background, hooks, rumors, factions, and wandering monsters but, alas, no actual encounters of the read-aloud & DM text. Still, I think you can get a good idea of the “read once” nature of the intro portions and it can get you excited about running it.

Posted in Reviews, The Best | 1 Comment

Dungeon Magazine Summary: Issues 1 through 25

I’m trying to write up my notes and finish up my Dungeon reviews, so you can expect a few more of these as I work on 25 issues a week. Then I’ll write up a grand summary and be done with the thing.

Dungeon 1
Into the Fire, the cover adventure, is surprisingly good, with LARGE wilderness encounters with huge numbers of humanoids. 12 trolls, 100 bandits, 20 soldiers, and so on. Falls in to the “gimp the players” trap in order to make an 88hp dragon challenging. That’s too bad.

Dungeon 2
Caermor has a great low magic/peasants vibe going on, with mobs and morons. Needs fleshed out more.

Keep at Koralgesh reminds me a lot of Silver Princess/Amber/Lost CIty … a little generic complimented by some very specific window dressing.Creatures & magic are both a little generic though.

Dungeon 3
Falcon’s Peak feels like a tactical assault on a real location. Good map, and the entire place presented as a sandbox locale.

Blood on the Snow is nice, but its going to take several months of game time to pull off this scandinavian themed adventure of long treks through the snow

Dungeon 5
Kappa at Pachee Bridge is another linear OA folklore adventure … that I LUV. OA gets fairies and monsters right.

Lady of the Lake has an almost dream-like air to it. The wonder of D&D is communicated fairly well, in spite of the adventures many problems.

Dungeon 6
Forbidden Mountain has a non-euclidian dungeon and it’s good to see something a little different and more wondrous. Most of it is worthless, but the non-euclidian part is neato.

House of the Brothers is much loved in Internet circles, but I don’t think it works. It’s too adversarial for my tastes.

Dungeon 7
Nightshade is pretty worthless except for a reprobate wizards home you could steal form.

Matchmakers is a good adventure hampered by its organization. Notes & a good amount of prep can turn this in to a zany adventure complications in a great town environment.

Dungeon 8
Wounded Worm has a nice evil villain and minions that you could integrate in to a region as a kind of evil bad guy … if you can dig through the mountains of tex.

Dungeon 9
Golden Bowl is an OA adventure. I like the way these tend to integrate folklore much more in to the adventure … similar to leaving out milk on the stopp for the little people. Roleplaying and combat get a good mix, with a strong folklore theme.

Dungeon 10
Secrets of the Towers is more like a group of adventure seeds than an adventure. It stands out as something worth stealing for your own ends.

Dungeon 11
Dark Conventicle is an evil temple with a good map and a massive final fight. Lame encounters will require work to turn this in to something decent.

Ward of the Witching Ways is a tournament adventure, but isn’t linear as most are. Too much text stands out, but it’s open in a way that few things are.

Dungeon 12
Spottle Parlor
A social and event based adventure with strong NPC’s and a great whimsy and absurd factor to it. Strong themes and classical archetypes for the NPC’s make this a delight.

Huddle farm highlights the mundane drama of idyllic halfling life. That’s the background to the hook … the rest is ok but very badly organized for the type of events adventure it is.

Dungeon 13
Ruins of Nol-Daer is good adventure in a ruined keep in the countryside. Good hooks, countryside, descriptions, magic items. This thing is a cut above.

Nests & Nations is going to be more of an outline that you have to build from. Good concepts but you need to throw a lot away and do a six million dollar rebuild. Lots of events, lots of chaos, and a good monster enemy.

Dungeon 14
Masqueraider was a small wilderness area and cave system that really got close to the line of being acceptable. Most of the encounters had a nugget of something good with some decent descriptions.

Stranded on the Baron’s Island was a social adventure, full of NPC’s to interact with. Unfortunately it was formatted like an exploratory dungeon instead of a social adventure, and needs to be completely reorganized to be useful.

Dungeon 15
Dragon’s Gift is a linear adventure, but it’s got that Oriental Adventures charm. I think a lot of the early OA adventures in Dungeon had a strong folklore vibe, and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. Talking animals, classic situations … and paperwork from the celestial bureaucracy. These have a social element to most of the encounters which boosts the adventure up above its weight class.

Roarwater Caves
A great little dungeon crawl with lots of chaos, a good map, decent encounters, and a short timeline to mix things up further.

The Elephants Graveyard
I mention this one because the Internet and I disagree. I think it’s got a couple of decent ideas but falls down in the tedium of managing an expedition. The Internet has fond memories of it.

Dungeon 16
Necropolis was a short adventure in a village with a fraudster and a real undead guy that could be a future resource for the party. It could provide some nice background trivia for a starting locale.

Vesicant was a ok-ly done pirate town with some decent factions and a nearby dragon lair. With some subplots added, you could respin this through a lot of work in to a decent town campaign locale.

Dungeon 17
The Waiting Room of Yen-Wang-Yeh is Yet Another OA Adventure, meaning of course that I want to suck it off. The beginning is better than the end, feeling more like an OA/Brave Little Trailer adventure. The second half devolves in to boring old hacking.

Dungeon 18
Irongard is a Ed Greenwood adventure. He does a great job coming up with interesting encounters and decent imagery, along with great magic items. I think it’s close to unusable because of the bullshit word padding, but it is decent.

I have mixed feelings about Tallow’s Deep. It’s very tactical focused, and I’ve become very wary of that sort of adventure. There IS a place in my D&D for stabbing bad guy goblins, and this would probably meet that threshold had I not just slogged through a zillion crappy tactics-porn 3e adventures from later issues.

Crocodile Tears is another OA adventure with a strong folklore vibe, and thus I ignore, again, the linear nature.

Chadrather’s Bane has a small region with factions and an ok social element with lots of potential. It brings the factasic to D&D by presenting the characters as shrunk down and the region is the inside of a house.

Dungeon 19
This issue was plagued by good ideas used as doorstops. In almost every one, there is some good ideas, or content to be stolen, but its then WRECKED by the rest of the adventure, or goes nowhere. Nothing reaches salvageable-with-work levels for me, but there are a lot of individual elements to be stolen for other projects.

Dungeon 20
Ancient Blood is a nice winter wilderness and dungeon adventure that has a great quiet horror vibe going on in it, a kind of gothic atmosphere … if you skip the Papers & Paychecks logistics shit.

I’m disappointed in Pride of the Sky. It has man-scorpions in a cool temple, but fucks it up terribly by being boring as fuck (and that’s ignoring the shitty airship hook.) You could take inspiration from this one and do something great, if you were willing to start from scratch.

Dungeon 21
Jammin’ marks the appearance of Spelljammer and Ward does a decent job of bringing a magical and wondrous environment to life.

Incident at Strathern Point is sticky. Read it once, maybe twice, and it sticks with you enough to run it on the fly. Real, grim, gritty … it FEELS like a demon-haunted adventure.

Dungeon 22
Dark Forest had a couple of decent ideas with mass combats and weird myconids, but has a pretty weak middle section.

Dungeon 23
Vinyard Vales has a decent Viking-like theming, and a good “beast man” thing going on with some lizard men, supplemented by great wandering monster tables.

Old Sea-Dog is a great little city/harbor adventure tightly done. Good town environment and well designed.

Dungeon 25
Of Kings Unknown contains an almost platonic entry on how to write a bad room description: “4. Trophy Room. This room once contained trophies of war. Swords, spears, and armor of all kinds were dedicated here to the everlasting glory of the fallen orc leaders. Centuries ago, the walls were draped with elven banners, dwarves sigils, gnome heraldry, and the flags and standards of men, goblins, and various orc tribes. The moon orc leaders have stripped the room of anything useful in order to outfit the tribe. The weapons and armor were quickly divided among the warriors, while the flags and banners were torn down and used for blankets or ripped apart and resewn into bags, sacks, and clothing. The room now contains only refuse and rusty, unusable equipment.”

Hrothgar’s Resting Place has a good map of a “realistic” cave environment and encounters that feed off it. Nice treasure and fun stuff like a spider lowering itself on silk.

Rose for Talaka is another I disagree with the Internet on. They like it and I think its loads of emo crap with no real adventure to it.

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 3 Comments

(5e) Yearning for Adventure

By Frank Schmidt
Self Published
Level 1

A religious festival in the nearby town of Saratoga is the spot your introductory level PCs have opted to begin their careers. With so many people coming to the festival the group anticipates finding information on adventures they can start their budding careers with. Action begins sooner than expected as the celebration is interrupted by a group of Stirges bothering some of the revelers and it quickly gets worse…

This 32 page starter adventure takes characters to level four from adventures in and around a small village being attacked by undead. Single column, bad read-aloud, bad DM text, “challenge” orientation … There are certain things in adventure design that make you say “ought oh!” and anticipate the worst. I’m not saying it’s right, but it happens. A high page count to low encounter count is one such thing. It doesn’t always mean trouble, but can. Another is PROMINENTLY DISPLAYING YOUR TRADEMARK NUMBER ON THE COVER. Priorities may have been misplaced. This is the usual combat dreck.

This adventure has a point of view and it embeds it in the text, deeply. The player background is a good example of this. “The time has come for you to be the hero you want to be” and “your master has explained …” and “you’ve finished your training and said your goodbyes …” Typical of most railroad adventures, you’re told what you feel and how to be. The player is robbed; their story is no longer theirs but the DM’s … or designer. This isn’t a village being attacked by undead that the characters encounter; that kind of open ended thing that you can slot your game in to. You’re told who you are and why you are there. This is embedded throughout the adventure.

Moving on to the DM text we’re told “The path of an adventurer is not an easy one and great care should be taken in selecting associates of a similar train of thought.” and “Although it is a small village, the area of Saratoga is about to present the young adventurers will a very large opportunity for their careers.” This kind of nonsense drives me nuts. It’s filler. It serves no purpose. Unfocused writing, not understanding the purpose of an adventure.

The read-aloud is consistently weak. “A quick look around shows several people near the edge of the festival attempting to fend of large flying creatures. As you look on you realize that this is a problem.” Really? They realize that this is a problem? Large flying creatures? Well that certainly makes the mind race and the pulse quicken. And the DM text for this? It starts “The first test for the new PCs will be a group of four Stirges …” Weak read-aloud, unfocused DM text …

The adventure is essentially linear, with programmed events occurring. Skeletons come down the path to the village, after the stirge attack. If you’re not there then a small child comes to get you. No skipping! Then you go to the cemetery and enjoy text like “You wanted a little adventure in your life, seems it has found you already.” Then on to the next encounter/challenge. No real village to interact with, generic descriptions …

You know, there’s something to be said for Just Do It. It’s admirable. Dude wrote and published an adventure. That’s a hurdle a lot of people don’t get over. He’s also charging for it and didn’t disclose that the fucking thing was 5e! Uncool. This thing is just a series of combats broken up by read-aloud.

This is $3 on DriveThru. They have it in the OSR category. Nothing could be further from the truth. The preview is two pages and it shows you EXACTLY the kind of content you are getting. Ponderous read-aloud. Ponderous DM text. Embedded plot. Enjoy.

Posted in Reviews | 4 Comments

Wyrd Ways of Walstock

By Dan Osarchuk
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

‘Wyrd’ things are afoot. This town might seem like your ordinary, post-apocalyptic-now-turned-fantasy locale, but it is not! Fell Cults have begun to take over and it is up to the brave adventurers to stop one in particular: the Cult of the Shield Ghul.

This 32 page adventure presents a timeline of a cults attempted takeover of a town. The cult has a timeline of activities and the party will, hopefully, get in the way of a few of them. At the end of the third day there’s a percentage roll to determine if the cult thinks its been effective in its lead up activities, and if they proceed/succeed. It presents a great D&D town, full of the oddities and character that I like so much, ala Pembrooktonshire and Marlinko, with the more out there elements of those filed off. It could use a reference sheet for the NPCs, and some names, in addition to numbers, on the town map. It uses, though, a pretty focused writing style that concentrates on gameable detail, with few exceptions. It’s a good town, and a decent series of events in that town.

What this adventure does, that so many fail at, is to provide the correct amount of detail, the correct amount of GAMEABLE detail, for the locations. There’s enough here, and its generally written well enough, to spark the DM’s imagination and allow them to fill in the rest. It relies on strong situations, iconic and stereotypical stretched just a little more. In one vile inn the stairs up are listed as: “These lead to a series of rickety, filth-ridden rooms, rife with vomiting and diseased dregs and harlots.” Nice! No need to stat out each of the individual rooms upstairs; from this we can get a strong idea of what the upstairs is like and run it on the fly. I could quibble, about a couple of events upstairs, but the rest of the locations, most of the more common rooms especially, have a nicee series of events/tables already for adding little things. The back door to the place is “barely functional.” There’s a pig fighting ring. The drinks are served not in glasses but in a trough that runs down the bar. Odors of manure and ale emanate on the outside. Another Bohemian, sho is bedecked with flowers, crystals, and potent incense. I think we all understand what this kind of place has, with dreamcatchers and lace and the like. These are descriptions and locales that you can hang your hat on. Further, most of the locations are contained to a single page, or part of one, meaning little to no page flipping to make scanning the entries harder.

As a social adventure it has factions, something like eight of them. The cultists, a group of healers, an ineffectual town council, the tired corrupt guards and two main merchant houses/families … not quite alike in dignity.

The timeline is summarized, the locations generally cross-referenced for easy lookup in them. There’s an overview, with more detail, of the plans that you could read once and not have to refer to again unless you want. The locations have events, like pickpockets, being vomited on, an aging harlot, and so on. There’s a table of descriptions and personalities you can use to fill out random NPC’s as an idea generator for when the party acosta someone. It’s all great stuff. Strong imagery. Decent descriptions. Not too much filler.

It’s lacking in really strong reference material. The town map is just numbered. Looking up which places are bars, or inns, for example, means hunting through the pages looking for them and then looking at the (numbered) town map. This is a good example of where putting the place names on the town map would have helped a lot. Similarly, the NPC’s are all found in their “home” locations … scattered throughout the text. That’s not good for a social adventure where the party is running around, asking questions, talking to people, investigating, and so on. It needs one page with all of the NPC’s on it, where they are found, a brief personality/feature, and their goals. Those two reference sheets would have really kicked this adventure up to another level, making it very easy to run at the table. One of the nuns in the convent runs around in all white at night, on the rooftops, as LADY LIGHT, casting light spells and preaching the wonders of Minerva. That’s the perfect kind of thing to throw in at night to mix things up, but it’s hidden in the description of the convent and not right at the DM’s fingertips, staring them in the face when they glance down.

This is a good town adventure. It provides lots of memorable opportunities for play, without forcing them on the players or feeling too contrived. Formatting for scanning could be better, and it needs some prep work for the NPC’s and map, but then again most adventures so. The amount of bullshit extraneous text is minimal, and what there is of it usually adds to the local colour of the place. This is a keeper.

This is $6 on Drivethru, and worth the price of admission. The preview falls down some, showing just the general overview of the town, factions, timeline, and plot. This is probably the weakest writing in the adventure and only hints at the better things deeper in.

Posted in Reviews, The Best | Leave a comment

Dungeon Magazine #150

I made it. I fucking made it! I’m not proud of the lack of analysis some of these adventures got, but, fuck man, THEY SUCK.

Kill Bargle
By Jason Bulmahn
Level 3

WoW! A non-shitty adventure in the final issue! A three level dungeon with seventy rooms, maps that are not terrible, terse read-aloud AND Dm notes AND introduction. The encounters are good: search a chimney and be in danger of rubble falling. A hat box with poisoned string tying it shut. Gold dinner plates covered with yellow mold. There’s an interactivity here that most adventures miss. Attacking a zombie in room C can draw zombies from room D. This thing is constructed, and constructed well. The read-aloud is not evocative, AT ALL. “The chamber contains a large amount of trash, but nothing else.” is not the height of prose. Or “The room is filled with boxes and crates of many shapes and sizes.” But, at least the read-aloud is only one sentence. I could quibble with some encounter choices, like the carrion crawler in encounter 1 that attacks if you come within 20 feet of its lair. This feels forced to me and I prefer a “curiosity killed the cat” thing where it attacks if you disturb its lair. But this is petty of me, and there’s certainly rooms for both types of encounters in the world of D&D. This adventure is worth having. I love the introduction to this adventure, short, to the point, and with advice like “the town is full of wild rumors about Bargle.” Maybe a line or two about personalities of the notables, but otherwise this intro does a great job hitting the notable facts, orienting the DM, and keeping things short.

Well fuck. I think I’ve been trolled. I did some research, based on the designer’s notes, and … I’m not sure Jason wrote this? I’m a B/X Moldvay fan, so the history of BECMI is beyond me, but after digging in some I understand this adventure may be based on one in the DM’s book for the basic set? I guess this is somehow the basis of the internet’s obsession with Bargle … which I know nothing about?

Quoth the Raven
By Nicolas Logue
Level 8

Oh it’s fucking Eberron, for fucks sake. You know, I didn’t feel like this when Planescape or Dark Sun or Masque shit popped up; I wonder what it is about Eberron? Anyway, this is just a confusing mess AND linear … quite an accomplishment. Chick is marked for murder by a psycho, and several linear encounters follow as you protect her and track him down. There’s a house at the end with a bit of a creepy vibe going on, but it feels forced.

Prince of Demons
By Greg A. Vaughn
Level 20

The final adventure in the Savage Tide adventure path. It’s just a bunch of overwrought set piece garbage trying to build exciting shit but burying it in TONS of text. There’s some decent roleplay opportunities at the start with the allied demon lord armies, but, again, its buried in confusing text. Jessu Christo, learn to use bullet points!

Posted in Dungeon Magazine, Reviews | 18 Comments