Midnight Oliviah

midolivBy Llord Metcalf, Ian Graham, Christopher Thompson
Fail Quad Games
Level 3-4

Oliviah the local tavern and inn owner has some of the best private auctions in the realms. The mystical armor of Ivan Goramavich has come into her possession and will be auctioned to the highest bidder. It is an item of legend wrapped in mystery. She needs a little security for this one and the security team might have more on their hands than they bargained for!

An “investigation” and then mostly linear crypt crawl define the twenty-one pages of verbose text. It introduces a difficult decision at the end and has a monster or two that is new. It takes a leisurely approach to getting to its destination and could use more focus. It does provide a creepy moment or two in the crypt at the end.

During a rare items auction up comes a set of armor that makes the wearer immune to magic. After the auction it turns out that one part is missing, rendering the armor useless. Having been hired to provide security, the party investigates the bidders and the bar where the auction was held. This leads to a local magic-user who lives in an old shine of the dead a couple of days away. A short little mausoleum crawl later, the baddies soliloquy reveals a vision: if the auctions winners get their on it then they will kill every magic user and cleric in a bloody pogrom. Thus ends the adventure, with the cliffhanger question of: return the armor, fail the mission by not returning it, or do something else.

The investigation portion of the adventure is the first eight or so pages. Two paragraph read-alouds and long passages about what happens are the hallmarks here. A short outline and some bullet points, or some such, would have gone a long way to eliminate the conversational style and make the information a lot easier to locate during play. This would have also freed some space for inclusion of some more NPC’s to mix in, as well as a few descriptions of items also for sale at the auction, something that’s just abstracted in the current text.

There’s a genuine creepy thing going on during the travel to the wizards shrine. Undead rise up out of the ground and wordlessly trail behind the party. When the group gets to a certain size they attack. This is an interesting and evocative sort of thing to include in the adventure and should result in several decent encounters. Three decent sentences can a lot to an adventure to where several paragraphs, or pages, do not.

The ossuary is nine rooms that are in a mostly linear layout. Rooms get about a column of descriptive text each, maybe a bit less in some cases, which is far too long for what is actually going on in the room. In spite of this there are flashes of great content in places. “4 bone creeps slowly scrape and drag their way around [the catacombs]…, and a room with skeletons hung on the walls that predict “terrible personal things”, like “dying of plague at a young age” or “losing a spouse.” This is a good example of the abstract being the enemy of the specific. This room goes on for half a page, but could be edited down quite a bit AND expanded with SPECIFIC saying of the skeletons. A read-aloud sentence or ten about the mustard pus running from their eyes as buboes fill their groins and they die screaming in agony, alone, in the dark. That would have been a good read-aloud. Instead we get the abstract stuff about plague and spouse and so on.

The ending is just a wizard summoning a demon for the party to fight, and then surrendering so he can leave the party with the moral quandary about whether to finish their mission or not and bring back the missing bit of armor. I’ve run in to a couple of these “what happens after the adventure” lately that have had this theme of No Good Answers. I like the complexity of these because they act as springboards to more complications for the party. Not obstacles. Not roadblocks. But more going on in the campaign world to add more color. That’s a good thing.

It could be a lot shorter. It could have more treasure (it’s a bit light in that department for AD&D gold=xp) and more evocative writing for the rooms that do exist, as well as better organization of the investigation. Such is life.

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One Waiting, One Prisoner, One Sacrificed

By Tim Shorts
GM Games

It begins with three children missing after a Summer Solstice celebration. The party explores Denizon’s Folly, a tower that was abandon and unfinished. The second leg of the adventure leads the party into the fey realms of Osmolt Village where magic and space are unhinged and the inhabitants are terrified, but keep a horrible secret. The finale finds the party seiging the Tower of Blaspheemus that sits on the cliffside on the Sea of Mist. This is a real fairy tale where never once are the words ‘and they live happily ever after’ spoken.

You are on notice: I luv folklore and fey.

This adventure is three patreon rewards published together. The first two parts are more conceptual than adventure while the third is a mostly linear tower adventure. It has some decent fey imagery in places but is SIGNIFICANTLY more bare bones than I expected. Expectations kill.

The first section covers the disappearance of the children. It’s two pages long with three sentences of background that says the kids have disappeared, there are ruins nearby, and there are rumors of fey in the area. What follows is the description of four ruined buildings, each described with a couple of paragraphs, that make up the “ruins nearby” complex. A house, gutted with flame, leaving a blackened frame and fireplace, with a bowl of perfectly preserved ripened apples on an untouched table … that’s pretty good imagery and is exactly what I’m going after when I say I’m looking for something terse by evocative. There’s another point, later in the third adventure, that has mist rolling out from under a towers front door, down a cliff, and in to a misty sea. Both of those paint an excellent picture and the adventure would be better if provided more of that type of imagery. As it is it’s a little sparse for my tastes.

The second section deals with what happens when you eat the apples and step in to a faerie circle. It’s a small faerie village, unrecognizable as such because their houses are all hidden behind “find secret door” checks/integrated in to nature. This section basically has a table for you to generate a fey type, what they know, and their reaction. There’s a nice dead treant section, acting as a prison for one of the three missing kids. The idea appears to be that you wander about, talking to fey, and their leader, and find the kid in the treant, and get enough information to find the evil fey tower. It’s more than a little … generic? The abstraction of the fey, their personalities, motivations, and so on is, I think, my major problem here. By abstracting that in to a three column table It has become, well, abstract. Instead I would have preferred some details for the fey, and personalities, and maybe some interaction between them. This is a pretty big missed opportunity.

Finally comes the tower where the evil fey, and children, are kept. While it’s presented as an abstract concept, with gravity on whatever wall you choose to walk on, and rooms full of junk, and other bizarro stuff (which does, in fact, invoke fey imagery) it turns out it’s just pretty much a linear series of rooms, connected by a single hallway.

The creatures and treasure all all completely OD&D, when they are listed. Unique items, unique monsters, all with a decidedly interesting aspect to them and certainly on-generic in any way. A bow made from the bones of a displacer beast. You can imagine it phasing around as the party hold it … or a monster that eats memories and experiences. You could probably go through the entire adventure and only have two encounters, and not even that many if you’re super duper smart, so, while the tower IS linear, it’s not exactly forced combat after forced combat.

The ending is decent and does a good job conveying the fear of the fey. The two surviving children, one 20 years, physically but not mentally, older than she should be, are ostracized within a week, the thinking being they are cursed by the fey. Beaten and in worse shape than they were in the fey realm. (Well, except for the “eventually to be eaten” part.) The party, in rescuing the children, have not actually improved their lot much. Very nice touch and keeps in the theming of the fey.

The first two sections of the adventure are a little too sparse. A couple of sentences about the villagers, in the first section, would have done wonders, as would a few fey actually detailed in the section section. And I still don’t know what level the thing is for. Five, maybe? Anyway, by providing a little more details on the villagers and fey (the social parts of an adventure set the scene!) and working a little more on the imagery then this could be a pretty decent adventure.

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Dungeon Magazine #105

I wish I could scan the maps for these two adventures. They are literally lines that run in to rooms. I’m not even sure why maps were included.

Racing the Snake
By John Simcoe
Level 6

This is a linear 16 encounter chase adventure. The party is being voluntarily used as bait to distract an assassin. They have 16 pre-programmed encounters. The assassin has a 38 to spot a disguised character impersonating the real mark … which is the whole point of the adventure. Because of this one of the party members basically gets to sit the adventure out, doing nothing but pretending to be a helpless girl the entire time. Imagine 16 combat encounters and your only action is “I cower” during the interminably long 3e combats.

I’m really questioning my review standards here. The encounters are not terrible (in a set-piecey sort of way), have some variety, and have some supporting information. In particular, each tells you how long it took to get to it from the last one, at various speeds. I wish more adventures, especially wilderness ones, did something similar. Even with the charts on my (homemade) screen I tend to have trouble with that. If the encounters appeared in an exploration dungeon (and were trimmed quite a bit) and tweaked a little to be more neutral/obstacle based …

That’s a lot. And it’s not what is in this adventure. This is linear. And it makes one party member essentially sit out the entire adventure. Dark days ahead. Dark days.

The Stink
By Monte Lin
Level 4

Please. I’m begging you. Send a search party in for me. Rescue me. Give me a purpose.

This is a linear crawl in a … sewer! Yes, that’s right, it’s a linear sewer crawl, that most exciting of all adventure types. Actually, I’m being unfair. You can select the right or left hand linear room set to go down. Well, before they merge into one and then it’s REALLY linear. 35 linear encounters, diverging by about six if you select right vs left. The sad part is that this had a decent little overview. One part of the city is walled off, The Stink, and all of the filth is dumped there. That could be a cool little Escape From New York type thing. Breaking in. Dealing with the various factions inside. All of that weirdness that could result from the premise. But you get none of that. The Stink is not really detailed AT ALL. It’s just a linear sewer adventure, with evil locath at the end. There’s a decent wandering encounter, with a desperate escaped criminal who takes a hostage, but that’s it. And even that is oriented more towards combat.

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Evil Wizards in a Cave

By Johnstone Metzger
Red Box Vancouver
Labyrinth Lord/Dungeon World

The Tellurine Monastery has a serious problem—a band of evil wizards have stolen their holiest relic, the helmet of Saint Anglard, and fled. The abbot believes they are hiding out in one of the region’s many caves, judging by the recent increase in weird occurrences. But can he find a group of adventurous mercenaries who won’t be distracted?

This is a 89 digest-page adventure describes an 11×12 area of hexes that take up 48 of the 89 pages. It describes a small borderlands region with some feature in each hex and a couple of over-arching plotlines going on throughout the region. The hexes need a little more action and the entire thing needs just a couple of more pages to summarize information for the DM.

Let us imagine you created a hex crawl. Then take two of those hexes and link them together and GREATLY expand the data for them, to ten pages or so each. You’d end up with something like this hex crawl. The idea is that there’s a monastery that has had a relic stolen. Some evil wizards who live in a cave did it. Both hexes have other things going on in them and impact a few other hexes. AND THEN THERE’S EVERYTHING ELSE GOING ON. Neighboring rules. The king’s men. Farmers. Wandering magical beasts of note, such as the dragon. The whole vibe here is of a lower-fantasy area and reminds me a lot of Zzarchovs stuff. This kind of harn-like peasant land that is then punctuated by a more folklor-ish type of magic and cult or witches, etc. It’s a style I can really groove on.

The adventure is serviceable, which is pretty high praise in Bryce-landia. I think it misses the mark in two or three areas and I’d like to spend a little time discussing those. Let us not take that to mean that this adventure is bad. It is not. It’s not a home run though and I’d like to discuss why.

One of my main conceits is that adventures should be targeted at the DM actually running them. I’m currently working on the position that is that quality that separates them from fluff. I like fluff, but a good deal of the blog, and the reviews, are essentially about play aids for the DM at the table, during the game. You can think of this, in shorthand, as “Why should I need to use a highlighter on the adventure or take notes ahead of time for use during play?” I expect information to be easy to find and easy to use AT THE TABLE.

This hex crawl has some issues in that area. I’ve mentioned the monastery, which is listed on the map, as well as the evil wizards. Both of these get a decent amount of text, up front, before the hex crawl, to orient the DM to them. Almost too much text, in the case of the monks. What the adventure is missing, most critically, is a brief overview of the REST of the hexes. There is clearly a couple of interrelated hexes subplots about neighboring noble lords. If the adventure had ONE more page that briefly oriented the DM to the interrelated hexes and/or subplots then you’d have a much stronger grasp and/or reference to running it at the table. “Uh, who’s our liege’s rival? Hang on, let me thumb through things until I find those other hexes …” This isn’t a general rule .In other words, not every hex with a relationship to another hex needs it spelled out ahead of time. But it’s very import when running social encounters that you have the context available for the people to relate information to party. The soldiers. The farmers. People you talk talk to will get asked questions by the party and when that happens you need a reference page you can turn to, and I’d rather the designer provided one than forcing me to take notes on the entire thing for use during play. It doesn’t need to be explicit, but needs to be enough that the local yokel can talk rumors and answer questions about the soldiers up the road.

In a similar vein, several of the hexes are missing some critical information that would help orient the DM during the game. There is a CLASSIC example of this very early in the hex descriptions. “In this hex there is evidence of the brown bear mentioned earlier.” I think you can see how this would be used during play. The party finds a kill, or tree damage and maybe that leads to trail that leads in the direction of … wait … which hex actually has the bear in it? Let me go digging through the book/hex descriptions. Oh, that hex. “It leads northeast.” Again, this is not an isolated incident. A few more monks, with quirks thrown in, and/or a time table. Better hex referencing. A general region overview. All of this could have been done quite briefly, and even still in the 89 pages if the evil monastery portion had been trimmed up a bit with a better edit. (The free text portions of the adventure can be quite conversational and wordy, to little effect.)

Second, I’d like to discuss the actual hex encounters, proper. I don’t review as many of these as I do other types of adventures, but I still have a definite opinion about what I’m looking for. I think sandboxes work best when the hexes have an “action” or “verb” slant to them. In other words, something needs to be going on in the hex, it needs to be full of potential energy for the party to release. At the other end of the spectrum might be a kind of tourism hex. “This hex has a tall tree in it.” or “This hex has a rock shaped like a duck.”

There’s certainly a place for tourism sites. “Meet me by the giant oak” or “I hid the body by the rock shaped like a duck.” They can easily serve clues and locales and meeting places, landmarks to get the party going to. But they don’t drive action. They are, at best, fluff, that the DM can use during the adventure. Driving the action falls to the verb hexes and all wilderness crawls need a decent number of those. The adventure has a fair number of verb hexes but could use more. It looks lopsided to the tourism side of the house and it needs to, I think, skew 50/50 or more towards the verb hexes.

A hex with a wolf in it means you can fight the wolf or run away from the wolf or avoid the wolf. A hex with a wolf in it that is guarding a bloody infant staked by a rope to the foot to a tree … that’s got something going on.

It’s a decent enough adventure, but will require some note taking.

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Ogres of the Fen

by Lloyd Metcalf
Fail Squad Games
Levels 5-7

In the midst of the expansive fen south of Lorview, Stonefar the chieftain rules the ogrish community of Gaundelfen. A great goblin army in the southern mountains plague the Gaundelfen and the surrounding hills defending their mines. The ogres maintain a sense of protection for the humans between the unpredictable goblin horde and their village. An unsettling symbiotic relationship has emerged from the precarious situation. The residents of Lorview take a little solace in the idea that their southern border is protected when they hear the heavy ogre drumming on the fen. Little thought is given to the Gaundelfen sacrifice or struggles, only that Lorview can rest easy without ogres or goblins razing the village. Now the ogres have come to Lorview, fleeing in terror from their fen. Smashing barns, eating sheep and spilling blood! Horror has struck Lorview as much as it has the Gaundelfen tribe. Who will stop this plague and find out why the ogres have come to Lorview?What can possibly be happening in the fen when powerful ogres flee in terror from their marsh at night?

What. The. Fuck. This is a 22-page mess of an adventure that has about one pages worth of content, not counting the maps. Formatting issues, confused action, and a writing style that tries to be lyrical when conveying information. It’s got an idea, and you can kind of make it out, but very little of the content in the product helps you run that adventure concept: a chase/hunt through a swamp.

The basic setup is that there’s a village on the edge of a swamp. At the far edge are some ogres, and beyond the ogres are goblin hordes. Thus the ogres provide a buffer … until they show up in the village panicked from all the undead suddenly in the swamp. Unknown to all, the ogre chief has found a fragment of the dark lords soul and is hunting through the swamp for more of them. What SHOULD be happening in this adventure is a hunt/chase in a swamp, at night, full of undead and panicked/fleeing ogres, racing to get the soul fragments/stop the corrupted ogre chief. That could be a pretty decent little adventure.

Instead it’s 22 pages of filler and too many words and background … and I don’t know what. Honestly, how all 22 pages got filled is beyond me, and I’m looking at the thing right now. There’s a map, 10 miles wide by 16 miles long, that the party is supposed to adventure on in one night. That’s a lot of space. There’s one encounter that actually explains what is going on, that can happen anywhere. The rest of the encounters (six others) are just simple undead encounters. “$ ghouls stand back to back” and so on. Seriously. They all fit on one column on one page. There’s almost nothing about fleeing bands of ogres, atrocities, evil/weird shit going on, or anything else that could be of interest.

The gre chief is just listed as being in swamps looking for the soul fragments (which show up as lumps of coal.) That’s it. No movement patterns. No supporting data, other than stats. Like I said, there is almost NOTHING present to support the core concept of the adventure in any real manner.

The problem here is not that this is a sandboxy adventure, or we need our hands held, or that the DM needs to add something. The problem is that only the barest concept of an adventure is presented, along with reams of extraneous detail that doesn’t contribute to the adventure. I generally hold the belief that most poor product comes from the designers difficulty in transferring their vision to the written page in such a way that a reader/buyer can pick it up and run with it. This is a pretty classic example of that. You can tell what the general concept is meant to be but there’s nothing here to help support that.

Also, a technical note:
The PDF was broken for me. There was a giant black square covering about 25% of a column on most pages. Some kind of layering thing, I think. I had to copy/paste the content/text under the square to figure out what was going on.

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Dungeon Magazine #104

d104Dragon Hunters
By Peter Zollers
Level 7

This is a jungle adventure, a search for a “dragon/t-rex that is attacking a human fort. The core of the adventure is rather linear but the elements around it allow for SUBSTANTIAL freeform play. The linear nature of the “core” adventure is almost a pretext to what is actually going on. Unfortunately, most of the content is aimed at the core adventure. Prince Dickcheese was exiled by his mother from the north to a jungle land. He wants to hire you to go kill a dragon that’s been attacking the fort. (Actually a t-rex.) Along the way you get in a couple of centaur fights and then find a temple with some centaurs and the t-rex. Kill the t-rex and centaurs and head back to the fort to get your reward: a land grant. You get one months grace on taxes. Turns out though that Prince Dickcheese was appropriately named. After being helped by the local centaurs and wild elves, when they landed here, he killed a bunch of the elves and most of the centaurs and enslaved the rest of the elves. The remaining centaurs killed the t-rex’s baby hatchling and planted the body next to the wall, to take revenge. Seems the centaur massacre put the centaur leaders son in charge and he wants REVENGE, but the rightful heir is around also, and willing to listen, maybe, to reason. Further, the soldiers in the fort, while fiercely loyal to the prince, also have this subtext thing going on where they know things have gone over the line with the massacres and enslavement. For those keeping the count, the faction list is: the prince, the guard captain and the soldiers, the evil centaurs, the good centaurs, and the t-rex, the local (evil) bugbear tribe, and, maybe, the prince’s mother. You see, one of the hooks, the only decent one, has the Queen asking you to go check on her son; she exiled him but still harbours some love for him.

This is all a great environment for an adventure and if it were expanded upon, just a little, you’d have a dynamite locale for adventure. I’d tone down the princes haughtiness a bit, toss in some more “neutral” towny NPC’s so the place was a real trading post/wilderness fort, toss in some more quirkiness for the soldiers, change the text to be less generic and more specific, particularly for the aftermath of the t-rex attacks on the fort. Lots of factions. Murky morality. This one has potential.

This was the last of the three adventurers Peter appears to have written, all for Dungeon. That’s too bad. All three of his adventures were significantly above the average for Dungeon Magazine.

The Demonskar Legacy
By Tito Leati
Level 8

Adventure Path!
Mostly forced & linear combats. The party is caught up in a tax protest that turns in to a riot. From there they are invited to a meeting where they find out that if a missing paladin isn’t found soon then Cauldron, the core city in the adventure path, will invade a small town nearby and probably destroy it. There are two opening fights, neither really forcing the party to get involved, but it’s clearly meant to get the party rolling dice as goody goodies. From there its off in to the jungle and some REAL forced combats, and then a small dungeon complex that is just a hack fest. A small puzzle then leads to the paladin and one more final combat. The text here is L O N G and ads little to no value, either in scene setting or helping the DM. The mob/tax riot thing is nice, as are the (brief) views of the tensions between the townfolk and the ½ orc mercenaries/town guard. There’s a decent scene with the “good guy council” that has a couple of members getting in to an argument and showing SOME sign of a personality, but it doesn’t really impact the linear nature of the adventure. I would find this hard to use, because of the verbosity, even if I did like these kind of linear hack-fests.

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Menagerie of the Ice Lord

By Dylan Hartwell
Self Published
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 3-5

Lord Venator lived in a remote mountain top family estate castle overlooking the snowbound village of Nix. An accomplished and enthusiastic hunter, he bored of mounting stuffed trophies and took to keeping his prey alive in a growing menagerie in his expansive abode. A recent malfunction of the magical cages resulted in widespread escape. The Venator family castle is now overrun with vicious beasts and Lord Venator is thought dead. A brave party of adventurers, suspecting the Ice Lord is dead, hurry to loot the icy abode that resembles the valuable magical crystals with which it may be filled.

This is a one hundred room minimally keyed castle themed around an Ice King who has lost control of his caged animals. It’s got a good mix of unique monsters and magic items and has about ? of its rooms with monsters and maybe ½ of the rooms, total, have any sort of description at all. It’s not bad for a minimal keying, and hits several key needed things, but it could use a little punching up in many of the descriptions.

The idea is that there’s this village surrounded by snow. The local lord is a snow elf and once a year he thaws the fields to allow the villagers to plant their tubers. He’s four weeks late, no one has come to/from his castle in awhile, and the village will starve if they don’t get their crops planted.

The village is really minimally described. It has a few NPC’s with a few sentences each as well as a list of the people in the village who worked in the castle and have not been seen. There is just enough here to run the village. I could quibble and say a few “scenes” of a sentence or so each, would have been a welcome addition, as would some interpersonal relations between the villagers. But it’s a decent job for the amount of the text provided. The trip to the castle basically revolves around “do you have appropriate transport for deep snow?” as well as one encounter with a frozen body in the middle of the road.

The castle has 100 rooms and sprawls over several levels. The map is basic but it DOES note which rooms have monsters in them, with an asterisk, which is something more adventures could do to facilitate running them. Making a lot of noise and the map shows a monster next door? That’s a map notation that helps the DM run it at the table. Some of the descriptions are just a room title, like “Full Linen CLoset” or “Empty Closet.” Others have a few words with the room, like “Ornate mirrors line the walls” or “Wall hold paintings of nature.” Those two types of room descriptions probably cover about 80% or 90% of the rooms with the few others having a few more details in them. IE: a second sentence or third.

As minimally keying goes this one isn’t bad. There’s a decent variety to the rooms.

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The Shrine of St. Aleena

By Peter C. Spahn
Small Niche Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

The adventure takes place in a cave complex known as the Shrine of St. Aleena which is set in the Chronicles of Amherth™ campaign setting, but may easily be dropped into any remote wilderness region of any campaign world.

This is a thirteen room dungeon, a former holy site overrun by evil. The dungeon proper only takes seven pages, with the wandering monsters taking about five more and the rest of the pages being maps, illustrations, and supporting material in the appendices … including the more lengthy NPC stat blocks. The wandering table is pretty decent, as is the nice description of the area around of the entrance of the dungeon. The dungeon proper is a pretty classic.

This has a vaguely Voldemort villain in it. Evil Bad Guy was killed by a Aleena, who becomes a saint. His evil spirit takes over her shrine as revenge, and his evil presence begins to attract other evil creatures. As a result there’s a sense of corruption in the cave/dungeon mashed-up complex. Evil black tendrils slowly forcing their way in to sealed vaults, snakes in holy sarcophaguses, the corrupted souls of protector spirits (ghouls), and a few classic puzzles to round things out. The pages are averaging about three rooms each, after art, etc. This makes the rooms proper come in at three to four paragraphs each of decently sized font. This is really stretching the limits of what I think you can run at a table without the help of a highlighter. Better to skew non-prescriptive and the let the DM fill in the rest then force a highlighter or a “at the table wumpus hunt” for the details of the room. It’s not exactly pushing in to Wall of Text territory but it is getting closer to that line than I would to see. This is solidly in the non-gonzo category, while still avoiding the Harn-like low-fantasy setting.

The wanderers table here is quite nice, if a bit wordy at a couple of paragraphs per encounter. The variety is nice, like a woodcutter you can recruit that actually a decent warrior, or a medusa, complete with statues, who just wants to be left alone. The only downside here is that the wilderness adventure is not really mentioned at all, so the wandering table won’t get a particularly strong workout unless maybe the party camps in the forest between forays. There’s also a quite nice entryway map/surface map for the dungeon, quite similar to the gatehouse/outdoor area in Stonehell. I really like these foyer-like areas. They do a good job in setting a mood and acting like a transition area to the main dungeon. Plus, it’s got a cave behind a waterfall. I am ALWAYS a sucker for the classics.

Maybe it’s the recent spate of Dungeon Magazines, but I really thought this one was a great example of a classic small exploration dungeon. Maybe a little wordy. Maybe could use a little more imagery of more interesting magic/mundane treasure. But a nice solid little product.

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Dungeon Magazine #103

Glacial Inferno
By Kent Ertman
Level 7

This is full on crap-fest combat-as-sport mode. Pretext after pretext is given for combat. Made with rage. Mad with fury. Mad with pain. The end result of every encounter is that everything in the room attacks the party on sight. Encounters other than “it attacks!” are few and far between and essentially are “NPC feeds you information on what is going on.” Save someone? They attack. Don’t save someone? They attac. Save someone? They give you a bare minimum of information, that, frankly, is irrelevant to the adventure. “Karl is mad and releasing a cold demon!” Oh, joy. And? Let me guess: We need to stab it. If you want set piece after set piece and combat and combat then this adventure is for you! Paraelemental cold ½ dragon/½ harpy attacks you! Joy. It’s rules mastery, for DM & player, as far as the eye can see.

Forest of Blood
By Wil Upchurch
Level 5

This adventure is closer in style to the older Dungeon adventures. There’s a random combat to kick things off, which brings the party to the villages attention, and then an incident which causes the town to turn to the party. A little poking around leads to a small wilderness adventure and then a couple of lair sites to invade and kill things. A fair is underway and a trained killer wolf pack invades, killing 1 villager a round, each, if the party doesn’t engage them. Later in the inn the party sees a local lothario leave with a couple of women, with one stumbling back in, later, talking about an attack by bandits. Poking around turns up some rumors (nice rumor table included) and clues to lead the party to the river. Once there they encounter the two lairs, first of the bandis and then the evil mastermind. It’s a pretty typical adventure. The whole lothario thing, combined with the rumors, bumps this up a bit.

By Phillip Larwood
Level 4

During the night the inn you are staying in slides down in to a sinkhole. You gather up the survivors (hopefully!) and try to find a way out. You can think of this as some kind of combination escort/exploration adventure with a plane of shadow theming, since there’s some nonsense offered to explain the presence of so many shadow creatures. There are three tunnels off the main cave where the inn lands. One tunnel has a room with an exit, and there’s actually nothing in between that room and the main room, so a lucky party could stumble on to the exit quickly. There are some monsters that wander by the inn, so holding up there is no a snooze-fest. This is terse, even by the standards of the mid-100’s, and the NPC survivors have enough of a personality, barely, to make them interesting to throw in to the fun. There’s a mix of asshats and helpful NPC’s also, so it’s not all a Fuck The Party NPCfest. I wouldn’t normally call something like this a standout, not by current reviewing standards anyway, but compared to the usual Dungeon fare, it’s great. Compared to the modern OSR it’s a more than serviceable adventure with, perhaps, it’s only fault being a lack of evocative imagery in the cavern rooms. There are exceptions, like a mural room with a gate to the plane of shadow, which offers classic “step through the portrait” gameplay. But generally, it’s just cave rooms with either a monster or something else in it. It’s the NPC/Party interaction that is going to bring this to life.

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By Christina Lea
Peryton Publishing
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 5-7

Those who who squint long enough through Mount Irem’s blinding snow storms can see lights flickering high on its slopes. The people in the town below tell stories of a castle made of ice that glimmers at the high end of Tharg’s run, but, when the weather is clear, no trace of it can ever be found. If it exists at all, it seems to exist only in the storm.

This is some weird wilderness adventure. It’s not, as the blurb above would imply, an adventure in a castle that only appears in the snow storms. It is, instead, an adventure on how to get to the snow castle. Just some wandering through the wilderness in the snow. It’s laid out in a point crawl type of style, without the map, and skews REALLY close to the ‘unintelligible’ side of the adventure spectrum.

Over eighteen pages you get six locations, plus the final “you found the castle!” entry. That is supplemented by four random-ish encounters that can be experienced with the party fails a travel check between the primary locations. The supplemental encounters are, essentially, just a paragraph describing a monster that attacks.

But … I’ve gotten ahead of myself. The way this adventure works is that you’re in a location and you make a Wisdom skill check. The check is your ability bonus plus 1/3rd of your level. Generally, if you roll at least a 15 you go to one of the locations and if you roll a 20 or greater you go to a different location. If you fail then the DM rolls a d8 table. The fail table might take you a location, sometimes with some damage being inflicted on the party, or send a wandering monster their way. Finally, if the DM rolls a 7 or 8 then you have some scary vision and loose a wisdom point, or 1d4 wisdom points.

This is, at best, an outline of an adventure. Site one is “The Crossing”, some crystal rails in the ground that lead east or west. Of the six encounters, two have monsters, one has someone to talk to, and one has a cliff to climb. The other two have nothing at all, just a weird feature that does nothing. The Ice Castle, proper, is the final encounter. The notes say that it’s supposed to be detailed in a sequel. Since this is an older product, I’d have to assume that never happened. There are other possibilities listed. It could be a mirage, a single encounter, or an entire dungeon underneath. This is more than a little disappointing.

There’s not really anything to this. It’s just an empty shell. And don’t give me that “the DM needs to fill it out” bullshit. There’s so little content, and it’s so … obtuse. And not in a good way. Combined with the goofy “wander in the snow until you get to someplace else” point crawl thing, it’s really hard to see any value in this.

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