CE2 – The Black Goat

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By Daniel J. Bishop
Purple Duck Games
DCC
All Levels

Not all mountain passes are lonely.
Come meet the Mahmat Troth and the One they adore. Only in the high pass will you discover what the Black Goat truly is.

Go read that publishers blurb again. Pretty cool eh? Well … not really … Or maybe it is. I don’t know. Because this isn’t an adventure, it’s a place. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve often thought that it would be cool to do a series of products around medieval ‘businesses’, describing what they do and how they do it, with floorpans and some personalities. A rope walk, for instance. Then you could use that in your game. That’s the intent behind this product … it’s more place than adventure … which means, no matter how cool, I probably would not have purchased/reviewed that if I known it. Which, in a way, is the entire point of me publishing my thinking n these reviews: ensuring everyone else doesn’t fall in to the mistakes I have. It doesn’t matter how good the chair if in fact I thought I was buying a loaf of bread. In the end, this is a missed opportunity.

This describes a mountain pass that houses an oracle: The Black Goat. It has maybe eight encounter areas and three or four factions briefly described. There’s the Black Goat proper; the oracle that lives in the cave. There’s the tribe of creatures that live outside of the cave and serve as her … minions? There’s a handmaid in the cave as well, pulled from the tribe, who may have her own thing going on …. But only if I stretch things REALLY far. Finally there’s a tribe of different creatures that live down in the valley under the mountain pass. The two tribes mutually hate each other (Frankie!) and ownership of the pass, and thus the right to be minions of the Black Goat, sometimes changes hands. And, I’m sorry to say, that’s about it. Well, there’s a patron table for the Black Goat.

Oh, there’s other content here. A description of the tribal camp in the pass, a rumor table, a description of the Goat and her quarters, of the treasure cave, and so on. But it’s not really anything interesting, or of value. What’s present is a kind of general fact-based overview/summary, instead of the individual detail that would make for hooks. Do you want to know that there are 20+1d12 adult males and 4d14+20 adult females and 6d12 children and blah blah blah champions? Or do you want to know that Bob has a crush on Sally who’s father is the one that deals with traders and who secretly had a love affair child with a member of the opposing tribe? Both tribes are given a nice general overview which makes them REALLY interesting. The mountain pass tribe then gets a bit more, essentially detailing how many there are and how they eat gruel 24×7. But anything extra which would bring the situation to life is missing. One could argue that this is the job of the DM. One could also rebut that by saying: then why the hell did I buy this product in the first place if it’s my job to add everything? I would never argue that the DM doesn’t have obligation to bring the detail to life, but I WILL say that it’s the job of the designer, through the product, to inspire the DM to bring it to life. I’m not talking 24 pages on the ecology & diet of the tribes. I’m talking an extra sentence or two or paragraph to bring the thing to life … in exactly the same way the detail about the tribes does. The general overview of the tribes is short and is GREAT. But then it goes nowhere else … except in providing some mundane detail.

The Goat, her handmaid, and the four or so caves suffer from the same problem. Generic detail. Her quarters are ‘lavish.’ The treasure chamber has ‘bags of rice and dried meats and more lavish fare.’ Nope, that don’t cut it. What kind of rice? What kind of more lavish fare? SHOW don’t tell. Don’t say it’s lavish. Don’t say it’s opulant. SHOW why it’s that way. Describe it. That brings it to life in the DM’s mind and let’s them hook off of it. The rumors are more of the same. Generic and uninspiring. ‘The people beyond the pass are passionate traders.’ Well, ok, I guess I could do something with that. But a beggar noting how we was traded out of his lifes possession, in a fair trade, with the people beyond the pass, gives many more opportunities.

This product has a lot of potential. The core idea is a good one. The tribes are GREAT … from 10,000 feet. But it fails to deliver beyond the elevator pitch.

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CE1 – The Falcate Idol

ce1

By Daniel J Bishop
Purple Duck Games
DCC
Level 2

The Cult of the Harrower is ancient, and each of the eight eyes of its spider-idol is rumored to be a moonstone gem the size of a pigeon’s egg. Moreover, somewhere within the cult’s sanctuary, a pool flows from the Egg of Creation. Will your Thief seek to make a legendary score? Will your Wizard pursue the shards of the Egg? Will your Cleric join the cult? Or will your Warrior fight his way through the web-covered passages to rescue them if they fail? Any or all of these scenarios are possible!

This is an adventure through a ten room temple. It uses the same simple map that The Twice Robbed Tomb, by the same publisher but a different author, uses. That’s a clever and interesting idea. Or, it would be if the map were any good. I’m not sure if people are cueing off of the official DCC adventures or not, but the VAST majority of DCC product I’ve seen has had very simple maps. Linear, or nearly so. I have overlooked this in the past, maybe because I use DCC so much as one-shots. A complex map can lead to an interesting exploration element, where the PLAYERS feel lost and confused, but not in a bad way. In a manner that enhances a kind of Fear of the Unknown. Where am I? What’s around the corner? Is something going to come down that hallway behind me? The characters turn the unknown in to the known through their explorations … but those side corridors behind you always provide some risk, some questions, some GREAT BLACK VOID that might be COMING TO GET YOU!!!! But these maps don’t allow for that. Maybe that’s ok, since DCC has a different vibe going on. But I’m leaning toward it not bing so …

Ok, temple. This is supposed to have a kind of Lieber/Conan “Spider God” thing going on. It doesn’t do a spectacular job of it but it does deliver that flavor much more successfully than, say “The Spider-Gods Bride” does. There’s one priest and a couple of monster guardians hanging out … but then again there’s only ten rooms. The theming is of a kind of horrible spider/crab hybrid, with the initial chambers being devoted to cobwebbed bodies in alcoves and vessels to sacrifice blood to. The entire complex TRIES really hard to bring the vibe, but I don’t think in the end it works out well. There is a kind of … mundane thing going on in spite of what the adventure is trying to do. A room full of fresco’s, hiding vestments and a concealed door. Well, ok … but tat’s not really interactive, is it? Or FANTASTIC. The same for the entry room with the alcoves full of webbed bodies. Ok. But where’s the interactivity? Where’s the SHOW in show, don’t tell? The descriptions lack the evocative nature to transmit a picture by themselves and the lack of interactivity means that a great many of the rooms feel flat.

The rooms also lack something else, something CRITICAL to a DCC adventure: stuff for the players to riff off of. The environments are not interesting enough to support very good Mighty Deeds. The locales need more stuff in them, especially if you anticipate combat. This could be done very matter of factly … “and then I’ll put in a big kettle so someone could use it!” or, better, much more naturally … “a kitchen should have a bit wooden prep table, covered with knives, and boiling kettle over a big hearth in the middle of the room and maybe some giant hog legs hanging from the ceiling …” That’s some stuff that the party, and creatures, can use to spice things up.

In contrast, the monsters and treasure are strong, as they are in most DCC adventures. New monsters bring the horror of the unexpected and good treasure, magic or otherwise, bring on the SPECIAL nature of the reward. You’re not getting crap. Heroes don’t get crap. Heroes get some of the parts of the Egg of Creation. Hell Yeah! Some of the monster descrptions are REALLy excellent, such as the transformed former thieves, who’s faces/heads are nearly transparent and filled with webbing. “Their faces look transparent, like glass which has been filled with a hollow radiance.” …”If examined closely motes of darkness can be seen moving within them. Their bodies are actually filled with a tight network of shining spider webs, and the black motes are spider-like moon reaper young.” That is some REALLY good writing. It communicates well, to the DM, what is going on with these creatures, thereby assisting the DM to, on the fly, run an encounter that is going be very impactful to the players. I want ALL of the writing to be like that. Terse, and communicating with pin-point accuracy an evocative scene that instantly springs to life in my mind … which I can then use to turn the room.

I want to call out a couple of other things that the designer has done that are quite nice. First, he’s done a great job with a curse that comes right out of appendix N. Steal the main jewel from the idol? You’re cursed and the temple statue, now animated, hunts you down until all of it’s jewels are found and replaced. That’s a GREAT curse AND a great was to continue the adventure and give continuity to things after the adventure is over. He gives the statue “HD4+200” hp, which is also an interesting idea, that, in retrospect, I think I’ve seen a couple of times before. That’s a nice way of putting in a lower level opponent but still giving it the staying power that “more HD” that more HD are usually used to represent. Finally, the designer recognizes the power of Deity Disapproval in DCC. This being a temple, there are several opportunities to sneak about by making sacrifices to the spider god, wearing the vestments to sneak about, etc. These are things your own Deity won’t approve of, and thus your disapproval rating goes up. Nice way to handle things.

If you’ve got any amount of talent in you you could probably make this adventure come alive. It does a lot of thing … if not well then much better than the vast majority of adventures. I have very high standards and so what a pass for me may be a Must Buy for you. I wouldn’t hesitate mentioning this is someone was looking for a new DCC adventure … it just wouldn’t be at the top of my list.

 

EDIT: Corrected my mistake regarding the authorship of Twice-Robbed Tomb.

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Dungeon Magazine #39

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There was a Science Fiction in … Analog, I think, that recounted a bunch of human authors on an alien planet that treasured literature. The aliens hated the human literature. Their own recounted every detail possible of every thing possible in the story, giving the reader the complete context of EVERYTHING that occurred. Reading Dungeon for 39 issues, I can relate …

Below Vulture Point
Jeff Fairborn
AD&D
Levels 0-1

This is an assault/recovery mission in some caves high up on cliff where some vultures live. Five or six pages of introduction give way to about four pages of adventure. The kobolds in the caves are commanded by an Urg who has trained some giant vultures to compliment the standard vultures that live on the cliff. The content here is quite dry and not very evocative, with lame treasure to supplement a lame and boring backstory. On the plus side it seems like this is quite a hard adventure for 0 or even 1st level adventurers. The lair is laid out well and the vultures and *limited) third dimension used to some decent effect. The caverns, in particular, on the cliffside are handled in a nice way, giving enough extra detail to transform the location from “generic caves” to “that vulture place on the cliff! Remember!” The environment reminds me a bit of one of my favorites: the troll lair in 100 Bushels of Rye. The environment here is well worth stealing, and if the treasure was better and the descriptions more evocative then you’d have a fine adventure.

Flowfire
Steve Kurtz
Spelljammer
Levels 5-9

Sadly, this is just a collection of nine encounters for your Spelljamming. There are some decent things mixed n with the boring/normal encounters. A dead kid in a wooden chest? Cool! There’s also an interesting NPC you can run across, a pirate, and a group of Ogre whalers, all of which are at least a little interesting. The others are less so, to varying degrees. The undead is nice little idea but not evocative enough to be a decent encounter as written. The Ogre whalers, in particular, are a lost opportunity. They’ve got a great little idea going on but their personalities are ignored in favor of treating it like a combat encounter. The pirate encounter is similar. Both would benefit from being written more neutrally with the NPC’s have more goals. Spell jammer is one of the greatest D&D settings EVAR, and there’s a lot of ideas here to steal from and expand in to something decent, and little to run as is.

Last of the Iron Horse
Jasper Jones
AD&D
Levels 2-4

This is a GREAT encounter with a group of dwarves bandits and their lair. It’s got a great vibe going on and is one of the few things I’ve seen in Dungeon that you could run as written. The backstory is kept at a minimum at only one page. The idea of a group of evil little shit mercenary dwarves is a pretty sweet one, and appeals to my “old fairy tale dwarf” nature. Their lair is a short little ten room place, mostly linear, but with more adventure in it than Dungeon adventures that run 35 pages long. There are at least three groups of people in the small place that you can negotiate with, including crabmen and a vapor rat! For being such a small place there’s a lot going on. The map has a variety of features, from sinkholes to water clogged tunnels to shelves and columns. It feels more like a “Real” cave than most adventures do. The adventure relies on the Tome of Magic quite a bit, which lends the magic items a more non-standard feel. This is supplemented by an intelligent weapon and mundane treasure that it more than just a throw-away description of generic “gems worth 200 gp.” Black bears, giant crabs, lizards, chimneys … the list of interesting things go on and on without BORING you to death with it’s verbosity. You could mistake this for one of the GOOD adventures from Fight On! Magazine. Great job Jasper! … too bad this appears to be the only thing you’ve ever written …

The Fountain of Health
Ann Dupois
D&D
Level 1

This is a simplistic 22-room ruined temple. And by “ruined” I mean that on the map the rooms have fuzzy walls that represent “rubble” near them. Sigh This continues the long tradition of BASIC D&D adventures treating the players, and DM, like idiots. It’s full of very basic advice and seems written for Jethro’s 6th grade education. And a decent amount of the advice stinks: “The heroes could attempt to climb the walls. Discourage this since it would allow the PC’s to avoid most of the encounters.” What boring and unimaginative advice. How about instead you reward players who think creatively instead of blindly imposing your railroad will? In spite of this I’m conflicted. Or maybe it’s my three Old Style lunch. There’s a certain classic feeling here, in places, that I can get behind. The backstory has villagers trying to reach the healing water in a pool that the ruined temple contains. A place of legend that only the most desperate will seek out for its healing powers because of the dangers … that’s a nice thing going on and there are bodies of villagers throughout the temple who have tried their luck. That adds a certain ‘living’ effect to the temple that I can really get in to. Combined with Stone Golems with 8hp, magic stone axes, spider web bundles, and a boss battle that may be un-winnable, it gets my seal of approval. But for Vcna’s sake, let the characters climb the fucking walls!

The Fire Giants’ Daughter
Wolfgang Baur
AD&D
Levels 8-10

Oh Wolfgang, really? Someone needs to fail a save vs magic in order to go not he adventure? For serious? This is a mythic Viking adventure, or perhaps “encounter” would be a better word, and a decent one. Baur does a good job with the introduction, giving us a hook of mythic proportions, perfect for a group of viking bravos to undertake … a ghostly woman in a hot springs! And then the descriptions of the ethereal tale is “there’s a fire giants daughter in a skirt and having a sword.” Not quite the evocative setting one was led to suspect from the backstory bardic story. Anyway, if someone fails their save then the adventure may continue. You need to go visit some fire giants to try and free the fire giant daughter from her asshole father domination. What we get is a little mini-tale of a viking homestead, but with fire giants. The giant, his dominated wife, asshole sones, and beaten troll servant and dogs, are all in a cave, along with the daughter. What ensues is a little micro-casm of viking society, where the giants must be bested in order to free the daughter from her fathers clutches. It’s a decent NPC–monster encounter, although the giants are a little one-sided in their personalities. But at least they HAVE personalities and you don’t have to just slay them. The contest proposed are a bit generic. That’s sad. You’re going to need to embellish a lot to turn this from a rough outline in to a stunning adventure, but the core of the ideas are all there.

The Ulrich Monastery
Peter Aberg
AD&D
Levels 5-6

This is a one-on-one adventure with a cleric PC. You go to a monastery in the mountains only to find its occupants slaughtered and a blizzard settling in. Then the next morning a yeti attacks! At least it’s only four pages long. Enjoy the 11-room monastery and prepare for the yeti’s return. Uh, and be bored. Because there’s nothing to do here except get attacked by the Yeti after 12-ish hours of game time.

Legerdemain
Matthew Schutt
AD&D
Levels 4-7

Oh boy. This is an investigation adventure in a magical ren-faire theater. Magical chandeliers. Illusionists creating theater effects. Potions to help the actors. It’s enough to make you puke gorbels. It’s a social adventure and there are plenty of NPC’s to interact with, with various personalities and motivations that will recognizable. The party shows up, looks around, interacts with some NPC’s, and then interacts with the main NPC to get a kind of a mission. Then some NPC’s attack, the play goes off, and the major attack comes. The evil NPC’s are GREAT, but not used well. They just end up attacking the party without interaction so their various quirks and qualities and goals and motivations are almost completely lost. Essentially, the party is just watching events unfold around them with little chance to do anything about it, except stab someone when they show up and attack. That’s pretty poor design. The evil NPC’s need more of an ability to interact with the party to get their full effect, and the events presented could be laid out better, with a nice timeline and more petty incidents going on. Yeah, I hate this kind of magical ren-faire shit, but if you’re going to do it at least do it well.

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FT1 – Creeping Beauties of the Woods

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Daniel J. Bishop
Purple Duck Games
DCC
Level 1

The faerie tales of old have been conveniently ‘cleaned up’ from the days of old, when witches were considerably less beautiful, and being woken from a death-like sleep by Love’s First Kiss usually resulted in- more death. Big Bad Wolves, Tin Woodsmen, animated trees, Talking Animals- all just a little more creepy that we remember as children. But the rewards are great, as well… marrying the princess, gaining the throne, and gold and wealth, too! Explore the macabre wares of the Goblin Market, the Grave of the Sorcerer, the Elf Mound, and many more fascinating phenomena from anceint faerie tales. But don’t leave the path…

The party is encouraged by the Baron to scout out the Grimmswood forest and look for the dead Prince Charming’s three re-animated brides: Ella, Beauty and Snow. Since the previous adventure, FT0, they’ve been running amok killing everyone in the forest and thinks are getting harsh because of the lack of trade. Your reward for this, for once, is something actually good: the hand in marriage of the princess. Yes! No longer under the threat of death! No longer “or else!” An actual reward befitting of an adventure! Fairy Tales to the rescue! Hooks are a hard thing to write. The best ones motivate the players instead of the characters, making them WANT to send their characters in to peril. The hook here is good, which is why it’s a classic. It could have perhaps used a couple of more words about the princess in question, to be married off, but otherwise it’s fab. Short, sweet, to the point, motivates, and the Baron is direct without being an asshole. Achievement Unlocked – Hook!

The heart of the adventure is a little hex-crawly thing through the forest, most of it on trails. There are 16 or so encounters, with a couple of them being small location with six to eight locations, like a small cave, mine, or inn. Of these three are the main encounter locations, the locations of the three brides, and three are ‘on the way.’ The others are on small side-trail or out of the way locations. I’m not sure how I feel about this. If you stay on the road you complete the adventure with only 1 “side trek” encounter. There’s a LOT of good content in this adventure that will never be encountered if that happens. It’s not so much that “ZOMG! The players won’t get to see the cool stuff!” but rather the core encounters, the three with the brides, are so … easy? To get to. An analogy may be: in a dungeon with 100 rooms the two main encounters are the two rooms directly to the left of the entrance. Uh … ok. No, I don’t have a good suggestion in fixing it, other than moving them about on map.

The encounters in this are GREAT, across the board. The wandering monsters are all very interesting, with just enough fairy tale influence to be evocative but not so much to be kitsch or tired. Animated apple tress, “old style” jerky ethereal elves, and the like. The designer has done a great job of taking fairy tale elements and themes and twisting them just a bit to keep them fresh. This extends to the actual encounters. From a goblin fair to ancient barrow to a behemoth of necrotic flesh, it all recall an earlier, non-Tolkein, view of fantasy. They show an understanding of the source material AND of fantasy RPG’s, marrying the two together without being ham-handed. Many of these are classic tropes which live up to their classic nature. The goblin knight, guarding the bridge, is an excellent example. He disappears when the first rays of morning light strike him each day, to return at dusk to challenge all who would cross. These encounters pretty on your memory. They leverage all of the myths and fairy tales you’ve read over the years, your mind filling in the blanks and giving life to them. Excellent! Until it’s not …

Just as in the last adventure, FT0, the adventure suffers when it attempts to break away in to something larger. It’s not that it ‘breaks character’, but rather the darker imagery isn’t as successful. In FT0 the fish-men and the bug in the kitchen were, I believe, attempts to appeal to a darker, Lovecraftian, imagery. There are elements of that horror here as well, in particular with the Burnt Brides & Grooms. For whatever resin the imagery here isn’t as strong and they don’t communicate THE HORRIFIC. Just as in FT0 they tend to send more of a “just another monster” feeling. I’m not sure why. There have been strong portrays of things like this in Inn of Lost Heroes and the Fallen Jarls series, but here things just don’t seem to click. Weather it be the setting, the thumbing, or the descriptions, they just don’t work as well as they should.

This is a fine DCC adventure and my quibbles about the map and the weaker “horror” encounters shouldn’t dissuade you. This is turning out to be an excellent series.

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Dungeon Magazine #38

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Note my new feature, in which I try to find something worth stealing for your own game in every adventure!

A Blight on the Land
Richard Green
AD&D
Levels 8-12

Monsters are attacking a village and people are starving. You’re called in to help. Wizards in a ruined keep have planted monster summoning disks throughout the land. Kill the wizards in their manor home, go fight the monsters and destroy the disks. The scenery in this one isn’t so bad. The land is just out of monarchy and, facing desperation caused by hunger, is about to elect a new official. There are a lot of throw-off descriptions of electioneering which can provide a great backdrop to the adventure if sprinkled liberally throughout. Frankly, the adventure could have used a lot more of this. The rumors are not bad but the 32 room “Wizard Manor/Hideout” could have used A LOT more beefing up. There’s a lot of useless descriptions of things not important to the adventure and then little to make it memorable. In particular, how the manor reacts to intrusion is missing. This sort of thing should ALWAYS be present with intelligent opponents. Inside the manor you find a map to the monster summoning devices, and by using it you dig them all up, defeating monsters along the way. When you get back to town you discover that he guy behind it all was just elected to be in charge. You confront him and he leaps over the table to single handedly fight each and every one of you … and the village mob? That doesn’t seem right for someone who’s described as a cunning schemer. This sort of adventure is fairly typical for Dungeon. One good idea that is surrounded by mountains of text and irrelevant detail, with no interesting treasure or imaginative magic items or encounters. The electioneering thing is well worth stealing though.

Things That Go Bump In The Night
Rich Stump
AD&D
Levels 3-6

Kipper the Dog, the Adventure! This is an absurd number of pages, 22?, for a non-adventure. Elves in forest hear scary noises coming from a taboo place. Go there to find some friendly firbolg, tearing the taboo place down. They’ll stop if you kick out the witch Lady Ugly. She’s actually a friendly drow who’s made friends with a lot of the forest creatures, including The Black Unicorn. But the truants and galen dur don’t know that. It contains one of my all-time favorite examples of how to not write a room description:

5a. Old Animal Pen
This area, defined by the eight stake holes shown on the map, was used as a holding are for horses and animals that would ventrally end up in the goblins’ stewpot. The wooden pen has long since rotted away. Adventurers finding the holes can only guess at their original purpose.

Fucking seriously? Not just what is used to be, but how it was used before you tell us it’s all irrelevant? The entire adventure is like this. There are THREE pages of backstory and history that will NEVER come up in play. It’s CrAzY! MOUNTAINS and PAGES of text about the elves, which serve only as a hook. On the plus side a couple of the magic items are slightly above the usual dreck. A ring which acts like a broach of shielding and a scepter that acts like a staff of withering. Yes, that’s what passes for “above average” in magic item descriptions from Dungeon.

Pandora’s Apprentice
Leonard Wilson
AD&D
Levels 8-12

This is a very short adventure, meant to frustrate the players. Do your players like to be frustrated on purpose? Mine don’t. A little girls steals a magic item from a PC and runs away in to a six room tower. Inside there are a bunch of doors that act like a phase door, a couple of cursed items in one room, and a few things like that. It’s supposed to play out like Home Alone., except there’s not nearly enough in the tower to support that style. You’re supposed to capture her and free her from a curse. I’d just kill her, but, hey, that’s me.

Horror’s Harvest
Christopher Perkins
Ravenloft
Levels 8-12

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ravenloft style. You’re hired to retrieve a meteorite and end up in a village with friendly people (pod people) and paranoid villagers … some with a secret or two in their closets. This adventure is trying to do the right thing but, perhaps, struggling through the format popular at the time. It recognizes the importance of the NPC’s in the village and how the adventure will revolve around them, giving a little stat summary sheet to refer to. The text of the adventure also lists how those villagers feel about other villagers and how they interact with them and what they have to stay about them. That is GREAT. A good social adventure thrives on the interpersonal relationships among the NPC’s in order to come alive. This tries real hard to do that, although it’s still going to take a lot of reading, highlighting, and note taking to run it that way. The adventure relies on one key thing: getting the mayor to tell you where he buried the meteorite. And he’s bats hit crazy insane AND has magic items to keep you from taking a shortcut. This is a rough one for me to recommend. It has good advice on running the pod people, and good advice on running the villagers, and good rumors integrated in. It’s just going to take a solid session of photo-copying the thing and transcribing notes in order to get it in to a position to play it easily. That’s a lot of prep work … I think you could get a really nice adventure out of it though. The NPC’s are strong in this one. If I were to every find the time to rewrite some Dungeon adventures to improve them with modern day formatting, this is one of the ones I would select.

It did strike me though that, in the context of 5e, the standard spell list should be closer to a ravenloft style one, with more ambiguity in good/evil detection, lies, and other magic that skips parts of the adventure, like commune, teleport, passwall, stone to mud, and so on. These things are troublesome for a style that emphasizes plot. The standard spell list would be great for a more OSR style 5E game that relied on the meta aspect of those spells to solve dungeoneering problems. And it would shut me up about bitching about “the tombs walls are immune to passwall.”

Bryce’s Standard Hook Advice: Every time you read “adventurer”, replace it with “mercenary” or “mercenary scum”, as your campaign dictates. Things make a lot more sense that way and give you a radically different vibe.

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FT0 – Prince Charming, Reanimator

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By Daniel J. Bishop
Purple Duck Games
DCC
Level 0 funnel

Prince Hubert Charming, son of the Baron of Westlake, and heir to Westlake Manor, is well known as a cold man, whose watery blue eyes seem to betray no emotion at all. Yet he is a great lover of beauty, as all his wives have proven. The first he found working in the cinders of a woodsman’s cottage. Some say that the girl’s jealous stepsisters threw her down a well to prevent her from becoming the young prince’s bride, but even death did not bar Prince Charming, and she enchanted everyone at the wedding. Her stepsisters were placed in spiked barrels filled with hot coals and dragged through the town until they themselves died.

This funnel is a jaunt through a ruined castle under the curse from a fairy tale … on pain of death! There have been rumors of field hockey … errr, I mean, of Prince Charming’s peculiar tastes in brides. Now Charming and his men have rounded up a group of villagers and he’s sending them in to a ruined castle in the Grimmswood to search for the rumored Princess beauty, who is sleeping therein. Thus starts our 0-level mob! The background here is quite Charming (:)) The designer does a pretty good job of weaving in the fairy tale element in the backstory and in alluding to it throughout the adventure. I don’t mention art often, but in this the negative style marries perfectly with the imagery in the text to provide a wonderfully evocative feeling of the strangeness present in fairy tales.

The adventure starts fairly strong with a rose-vine obstacle and a wizards lab. The roses fit in well and the wizards lab is straight out of the best OD&D adventures: weird, strange, and not of the standard rulebook. The wizards lab is full of weird stuff to play with. Glass eggs shows scenes of the deserts of mars, pickled frogs in various stages of life, a three-headed imp in a bottle, and a complete collection of Black Sabbath albums, among the other goodies. They all come at a hefty price though, although the spirit of the wizard does show up to impact gifts. The roses are a different matter. They are essentially an obstacle. You can take an alternate entrance or suffer their wrath and take the hit they impose.

Most of the rest of the adventure does not rise to this level. The stables, the courtyard, the kitties … these are all classic locations that scream out for life, and instead are given more of a throw-away encounter nature. Empty, with nothing interesting to explore, or in the case of the kitchen just full of a generic monster. The monster proper is interesting but it doesn’t marry well with the environment. You’ve got a great ability to invoke many classic elements with hearths, giant pots, cleavers, cheese, and all the rest from the vast fairy-tal milieu, and instead you choose a giant bug … and nothing else to interact with in the kitchen. This occurs presently in the adventure. When it tries to do something interesting it generally succeeds, but it doesn’t do that often enough. The rose dragon and the spinning wheel marry well with the vibe. The sleeping maidens have this mystical otherworldly vibe going on, exactly what you’d expect in a fey & fairy-tale sort of adventure. The rose dragon may be a decent example of the issues. It’s got a great set up: a mound of freshly cut roses three feet high, the scent fresh & strong! And that’s it. No other imagery or marriage of the creature to environment or even theme to the creatures abilities. It’s a half measure. The rose dragon deserved more.

There are some decent magic items in this adventure. There’s a golden orb that can answer three yes-or-no questions a day. That’s a great little item and it fits in well to the fairy tale theme. The other items tend to be more mechanical, and thus weaker. A shield that negates a crit, or a holy symbol that gives a bonus? A +1 sword that detects chaos? I rebel against these mechanistic monstrosities. The orb seems to have it origins in “this would be cool” and then the mechanics folio. The other items seem to have their origins in mechanics with a strained idea following. Yes, I realize that’s how most items are done in most adventures, but that doesn’t make it right. An idea, or effect, is much more powerful than a mechanic. The whole thing also full of generic jewelry treasure, which is more than little lame. Give it some thought and some detail Make it wonderful! That’s what we’re paying for, Wonder!

The primary baddies are the Hobyahs, which originate from a 1894 fairy tale book. They are given a weird little description .. And not weird in a good way, and then there’s this sudden emphasis on how they react to dogs. That comes from the fairy tale, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a funnel character with a dog. If it’s possible it certainly doesn’t warrant all the emphasis the adventure gives. Perhaps expanding it to ALL animals would help. The descriptions are a little weak also. The primary description is “The hobyahs are fey goblin-like things, a quarter the size of men, and seemingly a mixture of human- oids and black fish.” That’s a pretty good start, but it doesn’t really go anywhere with it, just like with the rose dragon. The adventure needs more flavor and imagery, especially for these, the primary villains.

I really really want to like this. I like the premise, I like the wizards lair, I like the heavy rose thumbing (even if the read-aloud doesn’t really do a good job of selling it. I want more “cloying smell of roses” and less generic room description bullshit. The Hobyah have potential and the adventure ends well … its just has a very weak middle and makes only half efforts at supporting the DM in the encounters. If you going to have read-out it needs to SELL the room; painting a very strong picture. Be Awesome! Not mundane. Especially in DCC. I’m on the fence with this one, probably because of the my love of fairy tales and fey. If you’ve got a strong attraction to those elements then I would encourage you to check this out. If you’re not so strong I would pass … this thing needs some … support? During play. Yes, A certain amount of that s a DM’s job, but the adventure must inspire the DM to that and this adventure, while having a good handful of ideas, doesn’t really do enough to support them.

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Dungeon Magazine #37

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I’ve been sick, work has picked way up, I’ve had a super busy personal life. But those are all excuses. The reality of the situation is that reviewing Dungeon Magazine sucks the soul out of you. Even when they don’t to ally suck, like with with issue.

Serpents of the Sands
By John DiCocco
AD&D
Levels 6-10

This is a decent little dungeon crawl with a little wilderness table surrounded by one of the most god-aweful and implausible rube goldberg setups that alone drain any enthusiasm for it. It amounts to: somebody stole/killed some thing/one, go get it. And the “somebody” turn out to be yuan-ti. After the soul sucking BULLSHIT os over the actual adventure is better than Ok. The wandering monster table is a nice one, with things like “you step on a sandling” and “dervishes looking for a ruin” and “nomads who trade with you.” There are a few “attack on sight” encounters and many more that have just a bit more to them. That extra bit, usually just a single short sentence, adds a wonderful variety to what otherwise could have been yet another generic desert dreck-fest. The dungeon entrance (which is really the first couple of levels) is mostly linear with A LOT of secret doors that you to find to keep playing. I’ve never quite liked that; secrets should lead to a reward and not be work required to be done in order to go have fun. Anyway, the real level has decent amount of looping corridor variety, especially for a level with only 15 or so rooms. It works and fits together well and provides some decent variety. There’s some decent descriptive text that serves to inspire: manacles turned left to open a secret door and poison needles shooting out of skull eye sockets. It goes off the deep-end in places with history & ecology and could use a good pruning down, but it’s much better than it’s introduction would lead one to believe.

A Wizard’s Fate
Cristopher Perkins
AD&D
Levels 1-3

This feels more like a D&D adventure than an AD&D adventure … and that’s a compliment. An evil wizard has disappeared … and so has the local girl he was courting. Inside the tower you’ll find a small 11 room dungeon that pairs with the three or so outside encounters around the tower. Inside is the usual assortment: skeletons, spiders, a “guardian” or two, and an imp … who is behind all the trouble. You wander around a non-complicated dungeon layout and find clues/key to get through a special door. This has a decent little vibe to it, although it seems a bit simplistic. The treasure, for example, is help in magical floating spheres, and a skeleton has a key lodged in its ribcage. It’s not a strong adventure, but it is strongER than many of the others in Dungeon. You could dump this in almost anywhere in a hex campaign and just up the monster HD to make it fit as a kind of mini-encounter in a hex crawl.

The White Boar of Kilfay
Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 3-7

This has a mild Celtic vibe to it. It’s a hunt for a mysterious killer white boar that both the kings of men and elves want dead. It ends up as a kind of mini-dungeon crawl trough a forest and then a wizards tower/keep before the board shows up, turns out to be good, and kills the bad guy it was looking for. The white boar runs out of the forest, chased y wild elves, and in to the hunting party of the kings son. The son dies as does one of the important elves. The king sends the party to kill the boar, and the elves stop them and ask them to do the same, escorting them to the evil part of the wood. There the party follows the path, has a some adventures, and finds a ruined evil keep. Turns out the boar was there also, killing goblins, henchmen, and the evil mage. There’s a mild mythic/fairy tale vibe going on here that I generally like, although it is quite mild in this adventure. The goblins and wilderness encounters are handled nicely, with the goblins having only one man let, a coward, and a bossy chiefs wife and they are all holed up in one room. As with the previous two adventures, the quality level here is much higher in terms of evocative test and interesting things going on that a DM can work with. The adventure, especially the end, is more than a little slow once you get out of the forest. The ruined keep needs more to keep the suspense going or else the players attention is likely to wander.

Their Master’s Voice
Roger Baker
AD&D
Levels 2-4

A side-trek featuring two trained leucrotta. They lure you out an attack. I guess dungeon needed filler and couldn’t afford comics?

The Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb
Mike Shel
AD&D
Levels 10-14

Widely regarded as one of the best Dungeon published. This is a Tomb of Horrors style adventure without some of the arbitrary nature of ToH and with some of the “hidden depth” that makes exploration worthwhile. There’s something like three pages of introduction and background before the 36 room dungeon is launched in to. Linear doesn’t quite describe it, but perhaps “linear with some dead ends” does … just as ToH did but on a slightly larger scale. The actual encounters though meet or far exceed throne in ToH. Many of them smack of the classics. The very first encounter is illustrative: three words in ruins carved in the door: Errukiz, Ezdrubal, Elomcwe. Dwarven for the Three Sins of Ruin “Treachery, Sloth, Foolishness.” Except the last one is actually buttons and you can press them in order to spell “Welcome.” THIS. A thousand times THIS. That’s what I’m looking for. It’s simple, it fits in, it’s short-ish (for Dungeon anyway) and it appeals to classic elements of play. Walls covered in eyes cry acid tears. Hill giant mummies lay DORMANT until their sarcophagi are looted. How great is that? They don’t attack on sight! There’s a green devil face you can shrink yourself to get past by crawling through a nostril … it goes on and on like this. It makes sense. I’m not a big fan of things making sense, generally, but in this case it’s all different. This is going to sound crazy, but … it’s like the designer thought up a dungeon AND THEN went back and filled in some mechanics. Oh joy! The vibe here is not “how can I force my mechanics to fit the situation” but rather one of “here’s a cool thing, and here’s the mechanics I added.” This has good thumbing and nice tricks & traps with some decent imagery at times. Everything you need to have a good time. Another good example are some of the monsters. In one room there’s a section of clay floor. If you pour water on it a figure struggles to get out … an emaciated human with the head of a fanged pig. It’s a clay golem! … But the party has to figure that out for themselves! This is PERFECT. It evokes the EXACT vibe that I want out of a monster. It’s integrated in, it isn’t given away to the players but the clues are there. That’s great stuff! The monster integrates perfectly in to the room, in much the way that some of the creatures in Many Gates of the Gann did, or the devils in the Her Dark Majesty series. This adventure is well worth checking out.

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[5e] – 23 players, 12 hours – The Lost Mine of Phandelver

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Five hours ago we finished up a 12-hour D&D 5e meet up event with 23 players during which we played through the Lost Mine of Phandelver. This has some details about 5e, the module, the events, and some AP “Let me tell you about my character” fun.

[5e]
After 12 hours of AP, I’m not yet sold on 5e. I don’t know if it’s specific to the rules in the Starter Set (I haven’t read the Basic PDF yet) or if something else is going on. I try REALLY hard not to fall in to Old Man Syndrome and be open to new things … I’m kind of hoping that I’m just not in to the new vibe yet. I like the Adv/Dis system a lot as a simple mechanic that doesn’t get in the way of the fun. The Clerical Turning stuff seems a bit wonky: once a day, only one creature(?) and one minute? Maybe I got the rules wrong. There was a little confusion when casting spells about bonuses … when to add in the proficiency bonus and when to add in the stat bonus, especially for the cleric. The thief Sneak Attack When Next to Someone thing seemed a little too “DPS” for me when I was reviewing the character sheets. In practice it kind of worked out ok, but I’d say that mostly because most of us at my table were not too clear about when things got sneak attack. Grappling, from the BASIC PDF, seemed really powerful. I panicked momentarily during the game when I thought the aristo-fighter was going to turn to using it over and over again. In the end they used it mostly to take a couple of prisoners of human bandits. The traditional thief ability of search, open, disable, climb, seemed a little confusing also. This may have been expectations perhaps? Maybe I was expecting them to work a certain way “roll your open locks check” and they don’t work that way anymore. Similarly, I think I was surprised by how many spells didn’t seem to allow a save. Sleep seemed to be a good example. I’m not sure how much of this 5e confusion is us misunderstanding the rules from the first play, wonkiness from the way the Starter Set presents things (with rules in the Rules, Character Sheets, and adventure) or expectations getting the way. I think the HD healing worked fine. Damage output from the monsters seemed high and yet only 1 of the 22 characters died. I’ve been playing 0e/BASIC for a couple of years now so the fast advancement of the first two levels seemed … weird? I get what they are trying to do but what happens, it seems, is that your “first level character” (at second to third level) has a shit ton of HP. I’m not sure if the murderhobo mood I’ve been in clashes with that more heroic high-HP style or what. It just still seems hard to kill someone. Maybe the adventure was bad with the CR’s and threw a bunch of lightweight stuff at the party? 1/4 CR goblins do not a challenge make! The lack of monster descriptions, in particular good, evocative ones, was, as I suspected, felt, by me as I ran the game. Further, a lot of what description there is focuses on attitude (they are cruel and cunning) rather than appearance. I have no idea what a Nothic is. The picture helped, but several didn’t have pictures OR descriptions. It should be obvious by now how I feel about a DM product that doesn’t actually help the DM run it …

You’ll note some of my thinking is around power levels. I think I’m still feeling the wounds of monstrously long 3e & 4e combats, and perhaps the mechanistic approach of the published 4e rules & scenarios. In the last few years this has pulled me back to the opposite extreme of 0e power levels in which things are fast & deadly and combat is no longer the entire focus of the adventure, explicitly or implicitly. Now that the power levels are ramping up again, with more HP and more fast early “apprentice” levels, and more damage, I’m getting a knee-jerk worry about the ramp up and visions of the 3e/4e arms race. I’m trying to keep this in perspective and give 5e a chance, but the previous wounds are deep. Yes, combat went fast. At first, second, third level. This is not an OSR game. This is a new, Something Else game, inspired by many sources, including the OSR. I’m trying to keep an open mind and may be just worrying too much.

As a transition between 5e and the adventure, I want to hit the Magic Item things I touched on in my review of Phandelver. Update: I fucking hate the wands & staves. “Anyone can use them” combined with “it recharges a bunch of charges each day” is fucking bullshit. I’m willing to take the “Get off my lawn” hit here … that they create a lame ass vibe. You’re getting something like 6-10 castings A DAY from the things because of the recharge, with a 5% chance of nuking the device? BS. This waters down the magical feeling that magic items should provide. They should be a thing of wonder, not the BS mechanical wonder that the staves and wands are. It’s totally fucking lame. If I had to change one thing about 5e that would be it. I know, it sounds petty, but it’s the kind of magical arms race and “taking magic for granted” shit that I LOATHE. I’ll forgive the “sip a potion” rules and the” think abut your item to ID it” shit, but not the infinite charge crap. The whole situation smells of the 4e magic item situation. Shit needs to change. Of the two staves (Defense & Spider) the Spider staff is FAR better. They both get a decent description from the Defense staff is purely mechanical: it lets you cast a shit-ton of Mage Armor and Shields. The Spider staff allows you to cast the Spider Climb spell and Web. Spider Climb is an EXCELLENT spell. It opens up all sorts of new opportunities for the characters to get in to the sorts of zany plans and stuff that I love D&D for. It FEELS like magic and opens up new opportunities for play. Web does so also, but to a much lesser degree. Shield & Mage Armor are just boring bullshit. Fuck you and your min/maxing! I love the augury statue as much in AP as I did when I read about it.

[Phandelver]
Almost nothing but good things to say about this adventure after 12 hours of actual play. I’ve covered the magic item and monster criticisms already. I wish the town was a little more ‘alive.’ I ended up running it like Deadwood, from the Tv series, with Sildar showing up turning things around, kind of like the Sheriff does when he finally takes up the badge in the series. Lots and lots of stuff to do in town. Two of tables did EVERYTHING in town. The final dungeon doesn’t quite communicate the “dividing line” between the undead and the invaders. The barricaded bugbear room does this, but the entire vibe is something that could have been better communicated; that’s the kind of thing that a good murderhobo exploits. I really like how some of the newer, and better, WOTC stuff is rewarding exploration. If you climb up the rubble pile, or look under it, or go down in to the crevasse then you find an extra bit of loot. Careful play is rewarded. The wandering monsters still seem like an afterthought, both in the wilderness and the dungeon. They don’t do anything productive. And no, they do not add realism and depth, at least not in a good way. They need more personality and/or need to be used to stop the wizards from doing a 5-minute day thing (which the two at my table were pushing for a lot after blowing their loads in the first combat of the day.) Anyway, the highest praise I can offer is that on of the players is a DM for a big Call of Cthulhu group that runs games at Origins & GenCon. He gave it high praise for having some depth to it. I agree. It manages to offer story without a railroad. Very nice. Also, as I suspected, NONE of the tables really ended up being heroic. Experienced D&D players, not forced to be heroic, pay lip service to the idea and then do whatever they want. This included one table taking over the red cloaks operation. Oh D&D, how I love thee!

I repeat my statements that the adventure needed a separate tear sheet for monsters. I ended up cutting out the last, monster, section of the adventure and stapling it together so I could refer to it during the game. I also found some .jpg images of all of the adventure maps and printed those out so I could have the appropriate one on my screen to refer to. Both of these help the adventure move a lot faster. The lack of this shows a real gap in how the adventure is published. While they’ve developed a fine adventure they have not provided the tools the DM needs to run it. And no, jackass, that’s not the DM’s job. That’s why the DM bought the adventure, so it wouldn’t be his job. This is almost a Usability type issue. By publishing the monsters, maps, and other important factoids in the back they could at least be cut out and then used as reference during the game. I ended up making my own town reference, with the name of each place, who was there, and the defining vibe of the place & person. I’ve the read the adventure, I just need cues from my reference sheet in order to run it now. I find it hard to believe that the play testers didn’t do the same thing. I suspect no one watched the plaiters to see how they were actually USING the product.

The pregens were excellent. They contain the leveling data right on the sheet, as I predicted they would, and their backgrounds and hooks fit each character quite well. Everyone found it very easy to slip in to their role after a brief read and I don’t THINK anyone felt phoned-in. Maybe the cleric seemed to have the weakest? The rogue, however, was clearly the best. His whole ‘revenge’ thing was a great hook.

I’m kind of happy that, after a long absence, I will be finally able to buy product from WOTC again to use with 5e, or an an older edition.

[Meetup]
This was the second half of our Welcome Back festivities for D&D. Last weekend we had a totally juvenile and wonderfully fun bonfire where we sent off the last edition. About 40 people showed up to drink, smoke, swap stories, shoot roman candles, and act like asshats. Yesterday was part 2. We hosted a meet up with 23 players and three tables and played through the 5e starter set adventure for 12 hours straight. We has about 26 players signed up and we’re prepared to run 5 tables. In the end about 23 people showed up. This is an AMAZING conversion rate for meet up. It’s been my experience that you can get A LOT more RSVP’s for an event that people who actually show. Having attended an event before seems to raise the probability that someone will show, as will charging for an event. This seems a little counter-intuitive, however I suspect that people either take clicking on the YES button more seriously when they see a cover charge or they take showing up more seriously. We charged $10/head and provided a bunch of soda, snacks, hot dogs for lunch, and pizza for dinner. Let me note that the hot dog roller and large popcorn maker are two of the best purchases we have made; trotting them out during large/long meet ups saves A LOT of hassle. We started up the industrial percolator at 8am and at 9am, the start time, already had about 20 people at the house. We started out with three tables of five and a table of four in the sunroom, dining room, living room and basement/hobby room. After a couple of hours one of the DM’s had to leave so we added one more person to two tables and put the others at one table in the basement. I think things worked out fairly well. The sunroom AC doesn’t kick on as often as it should, but other than that things went well. I tried to run the rules RAW because I assumed people wanted to get to know the new rules, and ran the adventure pretty loosely. All of the tables seemed to have great time. We had a good mix of older (40-ish/50-ish) players and younger (20-ish) players who all seemed to get along ok as far as I could tell. Time seemed to fly by, with my teen son saying “Gee dad, It seemed like only 2 hours has gone by.” More than one person expressed a sentiment to the effect of “I fucking love D&D!” When we were all hanging out after swapping stories everyone seemed to have a great time. I am now absolutely shredded, hoarse, bone tired from standing and keeping up high energy for 12 hours, and yet wired from the 2-liters of Mellow Yellow. Sunday is gonna be rough. My table ‘finished’ and the two other tables finished chapter 2 at the end of the 12 hours.

[Let Me Tell You About My Character]
At the end my group had developed Shock & Awe strategy. They would stack up at a door, cantrip it to slam it open, and then RUSH the room killing everything they saw. If there had been a pit/trap/etc they would have been totally screwed but it ended up working out for them. The free Surprise round they got was generally used to great effect. It was a nice Swat Team feel to entering rooms. And kept the pace up.

They ended up doing this to the Big Bad at the end. The wizard got init and dropped a fireball from scroll as soon as he heard the word “Drow.” Hilled him and 1 bodyguard, the party got init the next round, and finished off the other drow and the other bodyguard before any of them got to act.

The goblins at the ambush crit’d their stealth rolls. Two were hiding INSIDE the horse and burst out for surprise! And rolled 1’s. Covered in gore, they could not see who they were supposed to attack.

Then ended up killing the town master and chucked his dead body in the cell with the two red cloaks they captured. Oops. This was after the got a writ from Silgar appointing them Sheriff and the town master accused them of disrupting a peaceful group of red cloaks on the way to their morning Pinochle game.

The Sherif/aristo-fighter gave a rousing speech after to rally the townsfolk against the red cloaks. He got the brother in law and neighbor of one of the cloaks latest victims to join up with the party. The neighbor fell in the pit and died just as we got our sixth PC from the split up table. She ended up playing Hanzel, the brother. Who almost immediately found his sister-in-law, niece & nephew in the cloaks cells! [In retrospect, I should have given each player a DCC mob to play. That would have been a better reward and more fun.]

They left their inn in the morning to go to the manor and were jumped by four red cloaks, up late. They blew their spell loads and went back to bed after the Mayor incident. Shortest 5 minute work day ever. The red cloaks ended up setting the roadhouse on fire that night as revenge.

The guy who was the Sherif kept yelling “we have to take them alive and bring them back for justice!”, which would then inevitably be followed by copious mass murder.

They gave the beaten/captured dwarves pillowcases to wear, after they tore out head and armholes. It was funny at the time.

My table CONSISTENTLY went straight to the bad guys. Entered the back door Cragmaw and killed the king fast, made all the right turns in Wave Echo and went straight to the Big Bad room. Skipped through most of the town adventure and the chapter 3 stuff, only visiting Agatha. I pushed hard after Cragmaw to get them to Wave Echo, otherwise, they pretty much did complete the adventure in 12 hours without things feeling rushed or Fucking Around being sacrificed. There was much screwing around at my tie and a leisurely pace. They just made almost all the right decisions to zoom through.

They almost got TPK’d when the skull dropped a firewall on them in an enclosed space. The front bodies corked the passage and the rear folk pulled them out by their feet and got them after their second failed save. Our table finished up right after, as they went in to the smelter and the ghouls rushed in. The cleric didn’t recognize them as ghouls (I just described them) and we faded to black as he went down and the rogue was surrounded on the floor. 9pm had come and the DM was ready to DIE from exhaustion.

There were many many may more mementos of the kind of fun that only D&D can provide, and which always sound lame when told to someone who wasn’t there.

D&D is back! Hail to the king baby!

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B2 – The Twice-Robbed Tomb

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By Perry Fehr
Purple Duck Games
Labyrinth Lord
3rd Level

The domination of Pheniket the Pharaonic ended nearly two centuries ago, but stories of his ruthless ambition still haunt the region. An intruder from a sandy land to the south, with strange gods and customs, Pheniket tried to establish a colony of one in the land, and nearly succeeded. Those that followed his power did so zealously, and seemed even to love the enigmatic tyrant. His strength came from arcane pacts forbidden in his homeland, that enabled him to cause his enemies to disappear, and gave him vast knowledge. Legends wax and wane, and 150 years later, intrepid treasure hunters came to the settlement nearest Pheniket’s palace and announced that they had uncovered the Pharaonic’s tomb. They looted it, with some opposition (some animated dead, a few poorly constructed golems) and came back with an armload of magic weapons, armor, and Pheniket’s grave goods. Minor prosperity hit the area for a time, not appreciated by all. Those that knew the now-deceased tomb-robbers well also know that there was part of the tomb that could not be accessed by the original discoverers, who were happy to leave with what they had, as a feeling of dark foreboding saturated that forgotten place, a malevolent presence guarding the true prize in Pheniket’s resting place.

A decent little adventure suitable for a single nights gaming. It is right on the verge of being truly good … which means it’s better than the vast majority of product being published.

This is a short, and decent, little adventure through a tomb that has already been looted. You pick up a key, map, and rumors in town and then off to a dungeon that is nearly completely looted. Except …. Admiral Akbar Meme! You are actually being lured to the dungeon. This is not a trope that I’m particularly fond of. It generally shows up as the boss testing you to see if you’re worthy or some other such nonsense. This time it’s a bit different: you’re being lured because you’re food … food that carries loot! For the tomb is now home to a succubus and her ghoul followers. This, as a background, is actually something I could get behind. It’s not exactly handled extensively at all in the adventure, and a few more words about it would have been appreciated.Signs of other parties, countryside disappearances, etc. This is a people-trap and I wish it would have FELT more like a people trap. I’m not talking about a literal cage, but rather the machinations of the succubus. At third level this may be on the first of this type encountered and it feels like it should be more than the throw-away encounter it is. It feels like a collection of stats from a book, just another monster, instead of a Creature of Evil.

The tomb complex isn’t bad. There ARE a couple of clues about, fresh bones and the like. There are weird things, like a still beating heart in a can optic jar. There are even WEIRDER things, like a portal to another (weird) dimension. The final room shows some chops, with weird pillars coursing with evil energy, a large pool of unholy water, and hot chick with ghouls sobbing at her feet … [Aside: “I kill it” Nothing good ever comes from someone who looks innocent who’s hanging out in a dungeon. You want to talk to monsters? Look for someone who looks evil. You find someone who looks good? Kill them. It’s a risk mitigation thing.] The ghouls react in an interesting way, getting drawn to fresh blood/carrion, and that comes in effect several times in the adventure. A smart part might take advantage of it.

This short adventure is a weird thing. It’s got a decent, and logical setup. Things will make sense, hints are relevant, and so on. It’s even got a decent number of little things of interest in it. Overall I’m going to take exception with maybe three things. First is the Succubus and “get another monster” syndrome. The second s the descriptions of the monsters. There are not any, or at least any that are strong. We get “12 ghouls” instead of a good description of a ghoul. This sort of meta really drags players out of a vibe. Providing guidelines on describing your monsters should be standard fair. Similarly, the magic items are boring. +1 shield. + 1 sword,, displacer cloak. There’s nothing interesting about those things. A skin of a displacer beast, with glassy blacker-than-black eyes? That’s interesting. It is the role of the designer to provide these sorts of things to the DM. The designers job is to help provide the ‘punch’ to the adventure. Yes, the local DM must bring it to life, but the designer must INSPIRE the local DM to bring it to life. Otherwise, what value do you offer that a random generator can’t?

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Dungeon Magazine #36

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Asflag’s Unintentional Emporium
By Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 3-7

Time to clean out the rats in the old woman’s cellar, except this time the old woman is a dead wizard and the cellar is his tower in the middle of the city. I’m not a fan of ‘joke’ adventures, although I do like humor in adventures and I LOVE the absurd, especially when it comes to wizards. Willie Walsh gets close on this one to delivering a fine adventure. His descriptions of the wizards tower and environs and history get REALLY close to that kind of OD&D non-standard wizard archetype that I adore. It’s got a nice Discworld Unseen University vibe; this kind of mix of the academic and the absurd. He’s got a decent environment but it comes off as very one note. Only one or two of the creatures in the tower will talk to you, and there are A LOT of creatures, so it devolves in to a monster hunt where you open a door, kill the monster, and move on. Further, while several of the monsters are nicely located (water weirds in fountains, cifal’s in beehives, the brass snakes that make up the chandelier animate, the tools in the garden shed animate, etc) there’s not a lot of THE FANTASTIC apart from this. The ability to explore and play with weird things and, for the most part, detect the garden tools early, is missing. I like Willie’s background, and the NPC wizards, and many of the monster encounters … but it’s just a monster hack-fest. In the Ed Greenwood adventure I reviewers awhile back (Eliminsters backdoor?) you got to go in to rooms and look at weird things but could not interact with anything, turning you in to a tourist. In this adventure you go in to rooms and a monster appropriate to the locale appears for you to kill. Neither capitalize on the wonder of a wizards tower and deliver it to the party. In this regard, S3 was a better Wizards’s Tower adventure than these two.

Troll Bridge
By William S. Dean
AD&D
Levels 2-4

This is a short little encounter. There’s a bridge. It’s got a troll under it. The troll is actually a renegade gnome thief/illusionist. He makes the spectral forces troll retreat to a hidey hole and ambushes the party there. It’s decent, I guess, but I can’t help thinking that an actual troll under the bridge would have presented more interesting opportunities. Oh, look, a monster isn’t actually a monster but something else … geee, haven’t seen that in a D&D adventure before …

Granite Mountain Prison
By Roger Baker
AD&D
Levels 4-6

This is a rescue caper. A fantasy prison is described and the party is given the mission to rescue one person. You come across some supposedly beautiful city, only to fine burnt out buildings and broken street barricades. The local government is totalitarian and the rebel leader just got tossed in jail. You get to go rescue him, because GOOD. The prison has 36 or so locations, and then the 365 cell blocks. It’s well described for the type of adventure it is. Guard schedules, where major NPC’s hang out, the routine of the prison, the response to attack, and so on. It’s also a little boring. There’s just not much to some featureless granite rooms. It’s also got that Magic Ren Faire vibe that I dislike. Decanters of Endless Water as a water source, permanent heat and chill metal spells, a captured air elemental to provide air flow, and so on. It’s need some extra zing to liven up its step. Some personalities for the dick guards, or maybe some random contents for the prisoners personal items, and/or a quick list of the other prisoners (instead of the random prisoner generator, which IS provided.) There was a one-page dungeon in 2013 that also dealt with a totalitarian state. These might pair up well together, maybe in a Midnight game? Anyway, it does a decent job at describing a PLACE for the party to invade/sneak through. I just wish Ir were more colorful. Yes, grey is a color, but cerulean is more interesting.

The Sea of Sorrow
By Steve Kurtz
!!SPELLJAMMER!!
Levels 7-9

I don’t know if I can review this well, so it may turn out to be a description rather than a review. It’s a dragon hunt, in space. While in a spaceport the party see a damaged hammership return to port. It had been in a part of space rumored to be cursed. The crew, however, discovered the truth: there’s an OLD radiant dragon preying on ships. You’re sent after it. There’s a cutoff system full of places to explore, lots of derelict ships to explore, a ghost ship, dragon flybys … it seems jam packed. It seems … large? Expansive? And seems to fit a Spelljammer vibe well. Places to explore, NPC races to interact with, and a nice … I don’t know, pirate vibe? Not pirate. But a kind of Wagon Train to the Stars vibe. It FEELS like you’re doing a kind of fantasy exploration to a strange place. Travelling from point to point and exploring and interacting. Spelljammer catches this vibe better than any other genre I know. Combined with the weird monster races and their penchant for trade and talking I think it provides a solid base for a D&D game. This one could use a bit of gonzo’ing up; it tries to provide some interesting situations but they come off as a bit mundane. The various locales could also use a few more hooks. You get some short little descriptions of various places but many of them could use a little more interactivity. This would be the difference between, say, Isle of the Unknown and Wilderlands. While Isle, and this adventure, provide just simple descriptive facts (there is a village here), Wilderlands would provide a hook (which is desperate for white buffalo hides.) This could use a little more Wilderlands hooks. Still, a great supplement if you’re running a Spelljammer game.

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