Dungeon Magazine #54

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Unhallowed Ground
by Dan De Fazio
AD&D
Levels 2-4

“Name of the Rose” light.This is a railroad murder mystery in a monastery. Monks are turning up dead and the party is asked to help. The linear nature of the adventure (there is virtually no ability to impact the outcomes) is lame, and it could use MUCH better organization, but it also gets several things right. The motivations of the various monks are very human. They act out of spite, humiliation, and so on. That aspect is very well done. It also has some hooks which are open-ended enough to be interesting. Horse losing a shoe, inn’s full, wrong turns, etc. Finally, the adventure correctly recognizes that this is a social adventure and therefore the map, and keyed encounters, are not as important as they are in exploration adventures. It’s far too wordy, the NPC’s need shorter and more organized explanations, and portions are a complete railroad. It uses wordy boxed text to convey information to the party instead of noting facts to the DM for their use. All of this makes it cumbersome to use in practice. Also: when you mention a grave outside the monastery in the opening read-aloud you are guaranteed that the party will focus on it immediately. Perhaps not so wise to emphasize it so much? This would be another nice adventure to “fix,” if one had time and inclination.

Fetch
by Matthew Maaske
AD&D
Levels 3-5

A dog gets helps for his trapped master. That leads to a simple encounter with a bugbear and some hell hounds under a trapped rock outcropping. Why so much emphasis was given the Lassie portion is a mystery to me.

Fiends of Tethyr
by David Howrey
AD&D
Levels 6-8

A misdirection adventure in which the party fights raptors instead of demons … and then some demons show up at the end. Lame hook “Brave adventurers needed to combat demon outbreak in our town!”, a HUGE read-aloud monologue with the town council, NPC’s giving the party powerful magic items, and a confused hex section with only 2 encounters in it. It also has brief and good instructions for the monsters (they run out one door and behind the party) and some nice multi-level environments and map features to fight in/around. The room descriptions are very … free text, which makes it QUITE hard to tell how many monsters there are in a room. I know some people don’t like bolding, but just buriying the information in the text may be the worst possible way. There are some demons that show up in the end, to get revenge on the raptors, but they betray the party. LAME! LAME LAME LAME LAME LAME! It would be SO much better if they actually joined forces and the party had some potential demon buddies. Think of all the fun THAT would bring in a campaign! Nice misdirection in this one, with moron sages thinking the raptor footprints are Vrock. There’s a couple of gotcha moments also. AT one point there’s a loud noise if there’s a dwarf in the party, from an old dwarf temple. Out of nowhere this happens. Compare this to the armor/bucket on the well in Moria/Fellowship of the Ring. In one you have a chance to avoid and hilarity ensues. The other is just random punishment.

The Witch’s Fiddle
by Paul F. Culotta
AD&D
Levels 2-5

Misunderstandings abound! The party runs across some forest fey upset about a witch nearby that stole one of their fiddles, and now they can’t jam. The party finds her in a nearby cave trying to play the fiddle. And then some hook horrors attack from the rear of the cave. Turns out she’s an escaped slave and not a witch. There’s really not much to this one at all. Some fanciful read-aloud from the fey about the witch’s descriptions and a 1 room cave with a couple of traps.

Redcap’s Rampage
by Christopher Perkins
D&D
Levels 1-3

This is a little two part adventure that’s got some nice things going on in it. Villagers are being killed, a ruined keep is nearby, and …. well .. This thing has one major problem: The two parts of the adventure are not tied together very well. A redcap is killing people because he thinks his hat was stolen.. at the keep. And the redcap is mute. And invisible. The only tie to the keep is the mayor telling the party that strange things were going on at the ruined keep right before the killings. Since the redcap is invisible and mute there’s no real way to know that you should go to the keep. There are messages in blood about finding the hat, so if you you DO find the hat in the keep then it should be obvious that it needs to be brought back. The redcap is given the perfect array of magic items to avoid the party, the room descriptions are too long for a social/investigation adventure, and the rumor table is fact based rather than the more colorful ‘yokol-based’ tables that I prefer. In spite of all of this, I like the adventure. The NPC descriptions are generally quite good, and short. “Skaldar is a large friendly man with a serious mind for business. His shorter but heftier brother, Vaxalt, has little patience for customers who dicker over price.” Those are good descriptions for a DM. Short, and they give you what you need to know to run them. The wise-woman is an asshole. The normal rats, under the control of were-rats, still talk to the party and will sell out the rat-men for a bite to eat. Nice characters in this one, and good characters are a cornerstone for ALL social/own adventures and a lot of dungeon encounters. There are a few other nice things in this one: jack-o-lanterns in windows give an air of a “cursed village”, and the mayor rushing out to frantically grab the characters when they show up is a nice touch. FInally, the village cats are hunting the redcap, which is a nice touch AND could potentially lead to the wise-woman, who DOES have information to impart. This is another one of those adventures that desperately needs a rewrite to save it. Nice art in this one also, and I don’t usually mention art.

Eyes of Iceborn
by Jeff Crooks
AD&D
Solo 4-7

I don’t do solo’s. :(

Dark Thane Macbeth
by Mike Selinker
AD&D
Levels 9-10

Oh Jesus H Fucking Christ, seriously? What’s next, Waiting for Godot – The Al-Quadim Adventure? Yes, it’s fucking Macbeth. With grey & drow elves with names like Thane Macduff and Malcolm. And yes, there are are acts & scenes, just like in the play. Drow Macbeth Werewolves make an appearance. I guess also making them vampire liches would be too much? I read just over half of this crap-fest before giving up. Rather than play D&D let’s just roll a d6, on a 1-5 you win. On a 6 you roll again! Yeah Us! We played D&D! This is nothing but scenery moving past the characters. No better than the worst of the World of Darkness movie adventures, you get to watch, rolle a few dice, and await the inevitable outcome.

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DCC #88 – The 998th Conclave of Wizards

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by Jobe Bittman
DCC
Goodman Games
Level 6

Hail, wizard of Aereth! Forget everything you think you know about the magic. Mastery of the occult lies beyond the comprehension of your world’s primitive societies and warring kingdoms. Your cantrips and legerdemain are mere parlor tricks in the face of true power. The Star Cabal, peerless practitioners of the arcane arts, extends a rare invitation to join their ranks. Hurtling through the cosmos in a marvelous flying city, the magicians are revered as lords of creation by the spacefaring races of a thousand suns. Ascend to the stars and seize your rightful seat in the vaunted halls of power… if you dare.

This adventure has problems. Notably, I’m not entirely sure if it is an adventure. It’s probably closer to a setting book. Or maybe an adventure outline, much in the same way Hoard of the Dragon Queen was. I’m not opposed to fluff; I like fluff and think it’s great inspiration to creating your own game. My problem in this area revolves around expectations. When you expect X and you get Y then … well, not good. It’s also got some organization problems and can at times be maddeningly non-specific.

The book describes the conclave of wizards and their floating space city, as well as a bit of outer space around it. It tries to tie thing together by having an “adventure” of three scenes woven throughout it. The party gets an invitation to join the Conclave of Wizards, but has to seek out the portal to get there. Then the city is described, along with some NPC’s. Then a wizard duel is briefly described as part two of the parties initiation into the COnclave. Then they need to go to a planetoid for a briefly described part three. The organization of the three parts, woven throughout the fluff of the city/conclave, is a bit off putting and confusing. Compare this to Scourge of the Demon Wolf or Valley of the Five Fires which give you the setting up front and then spend a few pages detailing their adventures.The barrage of information mixed up in the book makes becoming familiar with the environment a pain and makes picking out the actual adventure a pain. Uncool.

The city/Conclave is an interesting place. A kind of techno/wizard enclave in space, visited by aliens, it comes off a bit like the city in Vault of the Drow, a cosmopolitan place full of wonder. It does a much better job than Vault in conveying that Wondrous vibe, and the Conclave comes to life much much much better than anything in Vault. A rearranging cityscape (Vornheim anyone?) combined with a mysterious wizards guild combined with aliens. All done DCC style so it’s not grim-dark but more Ankh-Morpork turned up to 11. (As DCC is wont to do.) The wizards of the conclave are wonderfully DCC, each different and with a touch of the bizarre. It really does a great job of conveying the weirdness of the city and of the wizards in the conclave.

Parts of the city though are frustrating non-specific, in the same way the 5E DMG adventure generator is. “Hmmm, [roll], there’s an invasion, ok, [roll], and the villain wants power. Hmmm. Ok …” In some ways the wandering table in Vault of Drow is better for conveying the weird of that place. ASE1 may be the gold standard here, with it’s tables providing a wonderful amount of colorful things, events, people, etc. In contrast this book gives us “1d8 cabal guard and 1 guardian” or “a band of rival initiates attacks.” This is part of what gives it the outline feel, as opposed to colorful things you can run at the table. I REALLY disliked Seclusium of Orphone, and this feels more like in that places than it does the more specific and colorfull far of a ‘normal’ DCC adventure.

The actual adventure is vaguely described, again leading to the outline comparisons. You get a message, maybe a bird drops it. You go to an island with a volcano. There’s a monster outside a tower. You go in the tower. End of part one. I’m obviously being hyperbolic here but there really isn’t much more than that. [Also, the amulet you need to gain entry to the tower is never given to you. Not a big deal, you can throw it in, but its absence is, I think, representative of the confusing nature of the organization.] The second part is perhaps even terser. It amounts to little more than “You need to challenge a wizard to a duel. The map of the arena is on page X.” Again, hyperbolic, but not overly so. The guidelines are “pick a wizard for the party to duel.” The third part of the adventure is longer, but again maddeningly generic. There are a dozen or so planetoids, a wandering table that doesn’t have enough to support a breadcrumbs adventure, and a finale location that, again, is more generic than evocative.

The book DOES do a good job of making Wizard characters feel special. From special quarters for the wizards to NPC’s referring to the rest of the party as hirelings, the wizard in the party will get a kick out of being special. The city and Conclave/guild is also a good plot hook device for launching the characters into grander adventures. In a sense, you’ve graduated from defending your planet and are involved in Bigger Things, Green Lantern of Earth.

It does have some nice DM advice, in particular explaining the hook and how characters might come to find out more about the rumors in it. The entire “adventure” is more of an outline. “Here’s a bunch of stuff. Pick one of these plots. Listen to your players and determine what happened to the missing NPC based on what the party is talking about.” Clever, but … unfulfilling?

This is a nice setting/locale supplement for DCC. You can certainly get a lot of inspiration from it, and it would be a much more interesting model for Sigil than I ever found any Planescape product to me.

I don’t often mention art. The cover is kick ass. It probably set expectations with me that could not be met.

Also, I’m now out of peach vodka. :(

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The Weird Worm-Ways of Saturn

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by Daniel Bishop
Moon Dice Games
DCC
Levels 5+

Saturn. Well known for the weird magnetic energies of its core, which attract even non-ferrous metals, and which pulled many a would-be Crawljammer to his doom in the early days of space exploration. Saturn. Legendary home of fierce Ape-Men and even fiercer giant worms, which devolved from a great civilization that once worshipped the vast demon-god Tsathoggua before the first great reptiles appeared to dominate long aeons upon the Earth. It is said that the collapse of that civilization caused the weird energies of Saturn’s magnetic core. Many, but not all, of that demon-haunted culture’s works were drawn into the planet’s crust, there to be crushed and consumed. Even so, there is a flux to that strange magnetic attraction. Once in several thousand years, the magnetic forces wane for a period, and ships may safely approach or land upon Saturn. The technomancer Satrampa, who has long made her cold dwelling upon the frozen ocean-moon Tethys, has predicted that such a time is near, and seeks adventurers willing to brave the ringed world’s dangers. There they must locate the Vault of Zin the Meticulous. She will pay a man’s weight in gold for the black onyx ring long-dead Zin once wore upon his right hand. Failing that, she will pay the same weight in silver for proof that the Idol of Tsathoggua which one strengthened the ancient sorcerer’s spells is no more.

I bought this based only the strength of the front cover. I’ve got some weird fascination with what I call “70’s fantasy art”, but which in reality probably spans the late 50’s to the early 80’s. Anyway … This is part one of a two part adventure. It represents the hex crawl with the Vault of Zin presumably appearing in part two. There is something appealing about this adventure … even though I find many of the elements difficult. It could be that I found some of the elements very appealing and am romanticizing them over the other content.

Saturn has intense magnetic fields and you can only be on the planet with metal items for a brief window every 1000 years or so. The amount of time the window stays open is variable, and even then using metal objects can be difficult. The party hears about the window and Zin and maybe even Satrampa, and goes to Saturn. A hex crawl ensues, from the Crawljammer landing site to the Vault of Zin.

The group could meet Satrampa at the beginning. They could not. She’s a very interesting NPC and it’s one of the elements I found appealing. Unknown to all, she’s Zin’s former lover. She spreads rumors/hires groups knowing that either they will recover Zin’s ring … and be possessed by him, thereby bringing him back to life to join her, or that their souls will be gobbled up in pursuit of the ring and thereby fuel Zin’s continuing undeath. I’ve seen “NPC sending the party to their doom” before, but this one appealed to me. A kind of melancholy “Killing an Arab” bit of mood, the enui that immortality brings, but with a purpose behind things. I also liked her guards and the mechanical brain controlling them. Nice opportunities for mighty deeds and built with weaknesses that the players can exploit. It’s too bad that this entire section may not get used. Nice fluff/background material for a Crawljammer game though.

The hex crawl is … not the strongest. Saturn is briefly described as a kind of Dakota badlands sort of environment. It’s not very interesting. Riverworld-like canyons run through it, and these represents the paths the characters will most likely take. The hex-crawl map is about 42×42, with each hex being ½ mile. In these 1764 hexes there are about 10 static encounters and a simple d7 wanderers table. If we are generous in saying only about 10% of the hexes have a chance to be realistically explored, then it’s still about a 5% hit rate for pre-programmed. I’m not a hex-crawl expert but it seems sparse with a far too small wandering table. I may be wrong here. The wandering table DOES give a nice activity, four or so, for each encounter. IE: a returning war party has four or five different things they could be engaged in. This bring the wandering table up to 30 or so entries, which IS enough to sustain play. Particularly with the social element of the ape-men emphasized the way it is. This social element, and the detail on the wandering table, is one of my favorite parts of the adventure.

Some of the ten static encounters are quite nice. Different sorts of ape-man villages, from friendly to war-like. A large decaying Dune-style sandworm. Nothing gonzo off the charts but nice solid little encounters. I particularly like the way the ape-men are portrayed. Not explicitly war-like … even the war parties. They got their own business going on. This lends an air of authenticity to them while still proving some contact opportunities in which the party can either get in to trouble with them or help them.

I’d like to call attention to something the adventure does that is important. The mechanical guards of Satrampa (that the party will likely never meet) have a weakness (or two) that the party can take advantage of. Likewise, the “evil” ape-men in the adventure have a weakness, built in. If the party is captured then they are taken for sacrifice. Not too surprising. But Bishop has built in an escape plan. Their idol reacts to the player’s presence by opening it’s mouth! Which scares the shit out of the evil ape-men villagers since they’ve never seen it before, their village being MUCH newer than the last time non-Ape men visited the statue. This is a nice way of building in an escape plan for the party. Both of these are good examples of a “neutral tone” for the adventure. (The social villagers, who don’t attack on sight, might be another good example of this) This reflects the DM as neutral judge rather than the adversarial relationship that some (most?) adventures tend to take. It’s refreshing to see.

The imagery in this is a little flat. The canyon-lands environment is not presented as … alive? as I think it could/should be, especially for being on Saturn. Otherwise, it’ a decent adventure. It’s right on the edge of something I would keep, I think. It’s got enough different elements though I think I’ll keep this one. Let’s hope part two lifts it up even more.

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Dungeon Magazine #53

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pellbook Masquarade
by J. Lee Cunningham
AD&D
Solo 3-5

I don’t do solo’s. :(

Clarshh’s Sepulchre
by WIllie Walsh
AD&D
Level 1

This is a nice little journeyman adventure. You’re asked to find and loot a tomb to recover a Cube of Force, splitting a share of the treasure found. You have a scroll telling you how to summon the tomb, and a ruined town to explore, containing the objects hinted at needing in the scroll. Once summoned there is a small ten room or so dungeon crawl. The village reminds me a bit of the Phandelver ruined town, and the dungeon has a decent number of puzzle like things to overcome. How do you cross the chasm? Or clear the rubble? The solution to several of them is open-ended. There’s also a nice talking monster. I like the ruined town and scroll; players always like figuring things out and this this gives them that opportunity. There are little clues as to what the buildings used to be, and the scroll alludes to things in a decent way. The whole “loan the party +1 weaponz at the beginning”, so they can defeat 1 undead monster in the dungeon, is a bit lame. Better to just nerf the +1 requirement. There’s also a couple of secret doors that must be found if the adventure is to continue. Probably not a big deal, and easily dealt with by the DM, but “Roll successfully to continue the adventure” always rubs me the wrong way. Worth checking out.

A Serenade Before Supper
by Andrew Venn
AD&D
Levels 3-5

This “adventure” is really just one scene: an ambush by a wolf-were/jackle-weres at an inn. The inn is empty but for the PC’s and the monsters run the place in disguise. The party is supposed to be lured into thinking they are were-wolves and use silver, when they actually need +1/cold iron, I guess. It, inexplicably, has a regional map show where the inn is. That plays no role in the adventure. It has TONS of read-aloud. Not the worst I’ve ever seen, but close enough to make me think about it. The sham is telegraphed by seeing two jackals outside the inn. There’s also all this nonsense about how they watch the party and might not open the inn or attack if they think the party is too tough. Uh … so, now Dungeon is publishing adventures about the Road Not Taken? “Let’s play tonight!” [Nothing happens for 4 hours.] “You guys were too tough, the monsters decided not to attack.” This is the flip-side of the moron-PC’s who “are just doing what their character would.” Great jackass, the rest of us are here to play D&D. Jackals mean jackal-were in my book. There is seriously no reason for this thing to exist as it does. I guess when you “win” you get to keep the inn and that could be a base of operations? A side-trek expanded to six pages, with about as much content as a side-trek usually has. IE: 2 paragraphs worth.

Elaxa’s Endeavor
by Christopher Perkins
D&D
Levels 4-7

I want to like this. A keep has been taken over by brigands. It’s got a force field. You go through a forest to explore a wizards tower to remove the force field and then free the keep, and it’s lord, from the brigands. The first parts of the adventure are pretty good but I’m blinded by a couple of … inefficiencies, in the last part, the keep. It starts with the whole maiden “please rescue my father” thing. Investigating the keep finds it covered by a force-field. The maiden suggests seeking out a wizard who has helped in the past. To get there you go through a forest. So far so good. The hook is lame, Zzzzzz. The forest journey, while small, is classically themed and I drool for the classics. You meet a centaur. You can befriend him. If so some things in the forest are easier. There are werewolves in disguise that can lead you into a trap. Killer trees. Very nice little encounters, particularly the centaur and how it’s used. Friendly, appeals to mythology without being heavy-handed about it (magic arrows, not a complete dick, helpful.) The wizards tower is abandoned and so this is the exploration part of the adventure. There’s a thing done with an illusion that’s not actually an illusion. I haven’t decided if that’s playing fair or not. SOmeone tells you that the wizard likes illusions and that three-headed dragons are extinct and this is just the sort of thing the wizard would do … except the dragon is real. The maiden, and perhaps the centaur, are also accompanying the party, at least for a portion of the adventure. This sets off ALL sorts of alarm bells. I’ve seen DM’s Pet NPC’s a lot and any hint of it sets me off. These are done well, even if there is an implied “have to protect the maiden” escort mission aspect to some of this.

My problems is with the final part, the keep. I freely admit I’m unduly bothered by it. The NPC brigands in the keep are provided personalities. I’m not sure that works. They are going to get hacked down. There IS crystal ball, so maybe the personalities work in that context. Each of the keep rooms gets a full description. This is my major malfunction. This isn’t an exploration adventure. Detailed room descriptions are useless. The room descriptions should have focused on how they would be used by the brigands during the assault. How the brigands react, and ideas for what they do in the room if trapped. The kitchen goes into GREAT detail detailing a normal kitchen. While the brigands have some locations for them, that vary a bit, what tey do when the castle is attacked is not described very well, or at all. But this is the main aspect of the adventure. Instead of Mission Impossible/Where Eagles Dare descriptions we are instead provided with an archaeology tomb description style. :(

Steelheart
by Paul F. Culotta
AD&D
Levels 7-9

Just like in the Long Long Trailer, everything old is new again. In this nice little adventure the party is hired by a wizard to bring a young girls kidnapped parents. This leads to the girl goading the party in to killing some dragons at a Cult of the Dragon camp, and then goading them into messing up negotiations between the Zhentarim (Hail Hydra!) and the Cult of Tiamat (Hail Tiamat!) She’s actually a steel dragon and her parents were willed by the dragons at the cult camp. This thing starts with fiction (Ug!) but the rest of it is kind of nice, if you can take the style at the time. The set up with the wizard hiring the party is a little forced (he has a campy personality) but his motivations come across much less forced than many adventures. This is a compliment to the writing style more than anything else. There’s a really good wandering monster table for the party’s journey to the kidnappers region in which the encounters have little bits of extra information. The orc patrol reveals the ambush is captured/questioned, and so on. Just enough extra little bits of information to give the encounter a little kick off. Very Nice. There’s an ambush that’s well done, and a nice “sneak into the camp and kill/investigate things” section. From here the party learns of the EVil Plot that the girl will goad them into messing up. This leads to the next section where two large forces are engaged in negotiations and the party gets to cause trouble to break things up. These last two bits are written quite well. The are presented as a place, independent of the party. This allows the party to interact with them without presupposing any particular actions by the party. It’s then supplemented with a little extra information related to what happens if they do what parties would. This is quite nice; open-ended but with good advice. This is supplemented by little bits of what the various creatures/people do when they encounter trouble; how they react, who else reacts, etc. This is a great help to the DM. It also helps to give little hints. As the adventure points out, during the negotiations, the party will already be familiar with the signal whistles the cult carries because they encountered them at the cult camp. Continuity helps present realism. I REALLY like the last part, where the party has the chance to mess up the negotiations. It’s these sorts of situations in which RPG”s excel. The party is SURE to come up with some kooky plan and the creation and unfolding disaster of kooky character/player plans is one of the great joys of D&D. Also a shout out to the regional map art style Quite evocative and interesting while still portraying facts. A combination of traditional line drawn maps with a kind of cut out vignette glued on it. A very lightweight version of Terry Gilliam, or of an older illustrated map/manuscript. If Hoard of the Dragon Queen had been like this adventure then I wouldn’t have blasted it as much. Too many words, but you can’t avoid that in Dungeon. Nice adventure though, even with the annoying little girl/lies from the dragon.

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Deep Carbon Observatory

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by Patrick Stuart
False Machine Publishing
Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Mid-level

The adventure takes players from a town devastated by an unexpected flood, through a drowned land where nature is turned upside down and desperate families cling to the roofs of their ruined homes, hiding from the monstrous products of a disordered world, through the strange tomb of an ancient race, to a profundal zone, hidden for millennia and now exposed, and finally to the Observatory itself, an eerie abandoned treasure palace, where they will encounter a pale and unexpected terror which will seek to claim their lives.

It’s been a year, time for a signal boost. Go buy this. What.The.Fuck did I just read! Go Buy this. You see, this is what commitment to a vision results in. Go buy this. Shit, now I have to think about how to revise my reviewing model to account for the disruption of my core ideas. Go Buy this. You are a fool if you are at all interested in any version of D&D, Pathfinder, etc and do not own this. You could probably fit it into Conspiracy X, CoC, or any of a dozen other genres as well. You bought it, right? No. I’ll wait. Go buy it. Some people deserve to make a good living from their work. Stewart is one of those. He marries creativity with purpose to a degree that makes it seem platonic.

The adventure has a couple of overland journeys, a couple of complexes/dungeons, and a nice hook/Transition To The Mythic World section. It’s light on mechanics and packed full of imagery, ideas, and gameable content. It channels the vibe that Raggi’s Lamentations adventures try to reach. There’s this sadness and … inevitability present in the adventure that just kind of grows and grows. There’s a river journey, so comparisons to Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now are inevitable. There’s this same sort of Passing By Weird Shit Should We Stop thing going on, combined with a melancholy.

The adventure abruptly starts. Just a few sentences and no real background. Everything you learn about what’s going on is revealed through the use of the encounters. This works SO well. A picture is slowly built up in your head of what’s going on and how it fits together. But the picture is incomplete. Blackness hangs around the edges. This emptiness demands to be filled and your brain works feverishly to fill in the gaps. By the designer providing less information, and working it in, you get a better picture in your mind of what’s going on. There are limits to this, of course. It works well for background and history and not so much in other areas. But it’s used here for great effect. The adventure alludes to things. It implies. It leaves gaps present that you subconsciously fill in yourself. I don’t want to imply in ANY way that the adventure is incomplete. It’s not. The information missing/alluded/implied is not critical information in any way. It’s the fluff that builds a world.

This adventure does what SlaughterGrid did so well: provide evocative encounters. There’s thing DM’s do when creating an adventure that involves minimal keying. Just jotting down a dozen or so separate lines on a paper. “Room 4. Dry well. 4 Ghouls” The home DM can do this. They created the adventure. That text prompts their minds to remember what “Dry well. 4 Ghouls.” means. It’s a shorthand reference to something deeper and more complex in the DM’s head. This minimal keying is terrible in published adventures. The people reading it have no idea what what “Dry Well. 4 Ghouls” meant to the designer. Many designers write up boring descriptions, or resort to a lot of text to try and describe the vision. What’s really needed though is a short burst of flavor. What’s the key to this encounter? By just providing that much, and doing in an evocative way, the DM’s head can, once again, fill in the rest. That’s what this adventure does, over and over again.

“A petty cleric, clutching a log, shouts “All is Lost!” Seltor Tem is the only survivor of his village. He has a key to his church. He will drown soon.

Perfect. P.E.R.F.E.C.T. This is exactly the sort of thing D&D encounters need more of. It’s memorable. It’s tersely described. It’s full of potential energy. As soon as you read this your brain starts to fill in the picture and the gaps. Stewart does this over and over again in this adventure. It’s wonderful and a joy to encounter. This is exactly the sort of descriptions that I’m looking for to riff off of.

I could gush, over and over again, about many aspects of the adventure. The beginning section has some hooks. I guess they are hooks. There is/was this mem in the OSR about the Mythic Underworld. The players needed to cross over some threshold during their journey to the adventure proper. They needed to understand that Things Are Different Now when they entered the dungeon. I think that’s what’s going on in the entire “hook” section of the adventure. You learn you’re not in Kansas anymore. Things are put in motion. Events happen that have repercussions elsewhere in the adventure. There’s a simple time and event mechanism going on that sets the mood and provides that crossing over. From there it’s up the river to find Kurtz, with ever more weird things being encountered. It’s Wonderful how it builds.

I wish I had the words to relate how good the encounters are. As you journey further into the adventure things get more and removed from the traditional Tolkein tropes. It takes the bizarre that was only hinted at, in things like Vault of Drow, and provides full glimpses in to it. Nowhere have the drow seemed more Drow-like than in this adventure. Magic and mundane items are unique and wonderful.

After gushing for two pages I’ll also feel compelled to hand out some lumps. Most importantly: the maps. Most of them are generally ok. I might recommend making the numbers a little clearer on them, by typing them or something. I promise it won’t impact the aesthetics much and the old bifocal crowd (like me) will appreciate it. The map has to be functional. It MUST be. You can also communicate with it creatively but it must fulfill the core purpose. The DCO map, proper, fails most at this. The upper left, the entire right, the upper middle section … Stewart or Scrap need to redraw that fucking thing and publish it. I would also mention two improvements with the NPC group. It’s quite nice they were included. Just a TAD more motivation might have been nice, but I can deal with that. What they really need is a 1-page summary. 1 page with the stats and a brief personality reminder for each. Everyone who runs this is going to have to create that in order to use it. You should have provided it. The full descriptions are good and should remain, the reference sheet is just a prompter to remember the bits burned in to your brain.

GREAT adventure. More than enough content, and the content is VERY easy to build off of.

You bought it, right?

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SlaughterGrid

sg
by Rafael Chandler
Neoplastic Press
OSRIC
Level … 2?

Created by genocidal halflings aeons ago, SlaughterGrid is a strange and gruesome dungeon, avoided by all save the bravest or most foolhardy of adventurers. “Whether is was foolish piety, or raw avarice, or a surfeit of ambition that compelled you to enter SlaughterGrid, it matters not, for you will suffer before you are killed, and no one will remember your name.”

This is a three-level dungeon with a small hex crawl associated with it. It tends towards the Cannibal Corpse side of the gore spectrum. This puts it in good company with Raggi’s Lamentations of the Flame Princess style. The adventure also offers one of the best environments/descriptions I’ve encountered. Room after room, encounter after encounter, the adventure delivers successful room descriptions for the DM to use. On a hit/miss percentage basis, solely on the basis of of the room descriptions, this may be the best described adventure I’ve seen.

I have a much harder time reviewing the better products. I think I gush and don’t do a good job explaining the strengths. This is one of those cases. The adventure has an small nineteen or so hexcrawl associated with it. The descriptions of the rooms and the hexes both share a certain style of writing. From now on I will refer to it as ‘The style everyone should use’, or TSESU. What Chandler does with the descriptions is provide a little adventure. A thing, a hook, and consequences. Every. Single. Time. Taking one of the first hex crawl spaces: there’s a monster that likes/wants/needs some brightly colored cloth. It may attack the party if it sees some. It will also negotiate, especially if they don’t have any, so that the party will bring it some. It’s a monster! It’s a hook! It’s interactive in the way that the game as a whole is generally taken to be. Compare this to weaker hex crawls: “there is a dodo bird here. It is blue.” or maybe “There’s a statue of wizard here. He has a staff.” Note the passive nature of the later and active nature of the former. You can interact with the monster, and not just in a combat oriented way. And that interaction leads to other adventures and goals. The layering of the hooks and goals results in a much more interesting environment.

This same sort of thing is present in most of the dungeon. You find injured orcs, interact with goblins, find weird stuff to play with. Quite a bit of it (QUITE a bit) leads to the players having to make some interesting choices for their characters. The dungeon has factions, the factions provide additional depth, of course. Not everything is a potential ally (or at least neutral), some of the creatures are just dicks, and there are a decent number of the mindless as well to hack away at.

The rooms have a lot going on. Places you can carve out and explore. A weird logic to the dungeon that the players can exploit. Hmmm, more on this. CHandler points out, in the DM introduction, a number of effects that the players can exploit, from a resurrection egg to floating egg sacks. In addition there are, scattered throughout, a couple of things that you can further exploit. Digging out and curing another resurrection egg, or exploiting some of the monsters behaviours … ass some of the other monsters do to gruesome effect. There’s an element of ACTION present it the dungeon that is generally quite rare. Take the old B2/Borderlands. You would go in a room and the orcs would be playing dice. There’s A LOT of that going on … except it’s not dice. It’s eating or skinning a corpse, or something like that.

The treasure here is quite quite good, especially the magic items. A ring that shoots firewalls, named swords, named shields, etc. A lot of them have additional effects. A good example is a shield. There’s a face on the backside. When you use the power, the face changes to show the face is dead. The face changes to someone else. Same thing. Eventually it shows someone the PC knows. And then it shows a party members face. That’s NICE. other magic items self-destruct when used up, and so on. For quite a few the effects are described rather than just mechanically noted, which helps with the visual imagery and DM rulings. The mundane treasure tends to be pretty good also. Not just a crown but a gold crown, with rubies made from giants, and so on.

Chandler clearly knows what elements make up a good adventure. The room/encounter descriptions provide the exact sort of situations that are just waiting for a PC to wade into and stir up. And now for the other …

For all the dynamic room situations encountered, the wandering monsters are just a static little table. They could use a quick additional table to give them something to do while wandering. The new monsters are not particular well described. Compared to the Teratic Tome, they fall far short. I expected to see nice evocative descriptions that would spring to life in my mind. Instead it’s mostly mechanics. I appreciate the mechanics, but I also want a good evocative description. There’s also a kind of … lack of organization? that comes through. This is mostly a problem with the room descriptions. “Bob can tell you secrets of the dungeon.” or “Mary can tell you about the monsters on level 3.” Well … nice, but that requires I go look up the data to convey to the players. Just a couple of extra sentences and that problem would not exist.

Those sentences can come from the unnecessary text present in some area. “There’s a secret door in room that leads to room 20.” No shit, I see it on the map. “Study of the area may reveal a secret door. Normal odds.” Again, that’s quite the revelation. Also, you players roll a d20 to hit in D&D. Shall we mention that as well? There’s not an overwhelming amount of this present but when it shows up it’s VERY noticeable and annoying. Maybe because there’s so much focus present in the rest of the descriptions? What IS valuable is noting what the players can see/hear down some of corridors. Raucous laughter, glowing pink lights and so on. I’ve often thought about incorporating this sort of thing on a map but embedding it in the room descriptions work nice also. What, from this room, can you tell me about the corridor/next room? Dishes Done!

In the finest OSR traditions, Chandler presents some interesting house rules up front. Wandering monster rolls that increase the probability as you go forward. Group efforts to breaking things down. Int skills for monsters being tricked by players, and so on. They are simple and would seem to work fine.

It’s got a bit more gore/shock value than the usual adventure. I’m fine with that. If every adventure published were as high of quality as this one then I wouldn’t need to review adventures. This is really an excellent piece of work. I really can’t say it enough and, again, I don’t think I’ve done a decent job conveying just how good the rooms and magic items are. If I gave number grades then I’d give this a 10/10.

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Dungeon Magazine #52

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This review is not up to my usual standards. This issue really weighed on me. “Jesus fucking Christ how many pages are left?” is not something you want to find yourself saying while reading something you’ve bought for fun.

Spirits of the Tempest
by Mike Selinker
AD&D
Levels 9-10

This “adventure” is a riff on The Tempest. In that vein it’s organized in Acts and Scenes. IE: a railroad hell hole with very little free will. While I would not want to discourage folks from trying new things it remains that this thing fails in the core purpose: adventure. I’m using that word in a loaded sense that fits in with my core conceit. It’s clear that many/most adventures fall into these event of scene-based encounters. By railroading the players it fails to provide the adventure that is promised, instead turning it into a simple “roll the dice” game. Mike Selinker, I respond to your Shakespeare riff with a riff of my own: I got this job in a piss factory inspecting pipe.

Pakkililirr
by Willie Walsh
AD&D
Levels 1-3

This is a simple little 2-page side-trek with a grell. For those of you unaware, side-treks are where dungeon magazine takes what should be a paragraph encounter in an adventure and expands it to two pages. The villagers want you to kill an unknown monster. It’s grell,and lives in a little cave up on a hill. It will push some boulders down on you. *sigh* I like the map though. It’s a nice little encounters map with a road, stream, elevation, boulders, etc. It reminds me a bit of some of the smaller Harn maps … and that’s a compliment by the way.

Welcome to the Krypthome
by Samuel Heath
AD&D
Levels 1-3

Humor in D&D is a tough thing. Best to take it as it comes instead of forcing it. This adventure forces it. Some dwarves want you to find their brother/kill the monsters in a mine. It’s two goblins with a ring of invisibility and a bag of tricks. Lots of hilarity ensues. All of the room descriptions are NICE and long, with lots of read-aloud and DM information. Long even by Dungeon standards. There is one nice bit though: the dwarves have a boot with their brothers foot in it. Nice imagery there.

The Hurly-Burly Brothers
by Kevin Wilson
AD&D
Levels 3-5

This reads like a Grimtooth’s room. Two ogres summon a roc, pick up a PC, and drop them into a net in a ruined tower. It ratchets down through a hole in the floor to a room with a giant scorpion, pit & the pendulum style. The other players get to rescue them. It’s timed, so the longer it takes for everyone else to get to the tower them the closer the captured PC is to their fate. I have no idea how this shit gets in to the magazine. Were the submissions really so poor?

My Lady’s Mirror
by Christopher Perkins
AD&D
Levels 6-8

This is a sequel to “Lady of the Mists”. Many people like Lady of the Mists. This adventure has very little to do with it. This is an adventure in a castle that has been overrun. It’s got quite a few levels, and at 65-ish rooms its quite a bit more substantial than most Dungeon adventures. While the wizards away their Mirror of Life Stealing gets broken and everyone inside freed. The prisoners fight a bit and massacre most of the servants in the castle. Two who escaped plead with you to free the castle, look for their friends, etc. There are six or so of the prisoners left in the castle, and a lot of dead servants and few more hiding, etc. The adventure recognizes that it is, essentially, a social one and takes advantage of that. The former prisoners have several factions and various motivations. Most of these revolve around “getting their stuff back” and “revenge on the wizard.” As such they are generally willing to talk, unless they suspect the characters are in the service of the wizard. There’s some looting going on with the former servants, some hiding, some random demon evil-doing, and so on as well. This layering of things going on really gives the thing a life that most adventures don’t have. The room descriptions are crap and overdone, as was the style at the time. There could be more advice on the former prisoners, and the faction element, timeline of events, could be played up more. S greatly simplified map with the room names written on it, the NPC descriptions/stats, and about a page of text would greatly reduce the bullshit and make this one a solid C or B.

Laughing Man
by Paul F Culotta
AD&D
Levels 5-9

This is just an NPC, really, for a Ravenloft game. It’s a ghost killed when he was laughing. Two pages.

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Valley of the Five Fires

5f
by Richard LeBlankc Jr.
New Big Dragon Games
D&D
Levels 4-9

This is either a region module with strong adventures supporting it or a sandbox with strong adventures and great regional supporting material. Either way, it’s pretty good at supporting play, which is, I think, the major theme of my reviews. If you have ANY interest in anything I mention herein then you should pick this up. What’s interesting is how it does it … which is unlike the vast majority of products … especially those I tend to give high marks to. This product is organized. It’s focused. That makes it easy to use to support play. It’s a sandbox, and a organized one. I’d have to go back and re-read Scourge of the Demon Wolf to be sure, but my impression is that it’s better organized than Demon Wolf and does a better job being a sandbox … and Demon Wolf is pretty good and got a big thumbs up from me. Five Fires is VERY good at what it does well. I’m going to get nitpicky at the end of this review and clarify my comments on how it differs from the style I generally give high marks to.

The first half of this 55-ish page supplement is, essentially, a region supplement. It describes a mongol-like region with five tribes territories converging on a single point. “The Cradle of Man” is a neutral zone and is the titular Valley, with each clan keeping alight one fire on a mountainside to signify their devotion to the neutrality treaty. The valley is off limits to everyone. The region is given a brief history. And I mean BRIEF. The background material here is focused in a way I’ve seldom scene. You immediately pick up on what’s going on and have more than enough information to to carry any adventure forwards. That’s in maybe one column of text. Let me repeat: ONE. COLUMN. Extraneous nonsense is not present and every therein is focused on how the players will encounter the region through their players. It supports the type of information the DM in order to run the adventure for the players. It seems obvious when written, but FAR too few adventures actually do this. There are a couple of new classes and spells. There are some brief descriptions of two towns. These are 1 page each. Most of the page is covered with a reference table of the town vendors. PERFECT. There’s one page on the tribal customs/lifestyle of the nomads. PERFECT. How many times have you had to sit through about a zillion pages on how the New Culture People make eggs for breakfast? This supplement has just enough information for the DM to add some local color and play off of … without wasting your time with endless detail and nonsense. Two pages describes all of the key NPC’s. There’s a reference sheet ala Ready Reference Sheets, for the monsters. There a couple of pages of NPC’s, in table form, in case you need some random tribesmen with detail. They each get JUST enough detail. “Bob is neurotic, greedy, and brave.” Great! Now I’ve got something to work with! The entire first half of the book is the support material. The entire second half are the sandbox/adventures. Literally the second half. I’m not sure if it was planned this way, but the center staple is the dividing line, which makes Hunting the Wumpus for the data you need easy: support in the first half and adventures in the second.

The adventure parts are generally quite nice. You get a “Real” adventure, a quest for some artifacts in the titular Valley. You get some hex crawl features to add to the overland. You get a about three dozen additional adventure seeds to throw in. You also get about a half-dozen so other adventure locations. This is pretty jam packed. If it were me, I’d run the “main” sandbox adventure and throw in just about EVERY single one of the complications and other adventure seeds. Really pile stuff on laye it. Two dozen irons in the fire. After all, a sandbox is about choice and by adding in all/most of the seeds as “tack-ons” to the main adventure then you add depth and a kind of realism to the environments the players encounter. It’ no longer a generic mongol town. It’s now got ALL sorts of things going on that the players can get involved in. Sure, you COULD make the overland a kind of generic travel adventure. Or you could layer on some the pilgrim adventures, etc, to bring the journey to the city, or valley, or sage, to life.

This thing is going to take some study and planning and note-taking, especially in the adventure seeds section, to work in how you layer them all on and make sure you’re familiar with them. But what you will then have will be SPECTACULAR. And the time it takes to turn this spectacular will be A LOT shorter than anything else prepublished you’ve worked with. I promise.

Ok, time to be a dick and pick nits. In order of severity:

It lacks … imagination? Flavor? Something like that. The perfect adventure is some kind of marriage between Apollo & Dionysus. I want the flavor and imagination of an opiate dream related and organized by the world’s best technical writer. Most of the adventures I reccomend fall into the Opiate Dream half of the spectrum. This supplement is one of the rare ones that hits the Technical Writer side. As such it can be a bit dry. +1 swords. Yawn. Wand of Fireballs. Yawn. Remember those NPC descriptions? “Neurotic, greedy, brave.” That’s pretty good, but clearly generic, random, and could use some brainpower by the designer to turn it into something more creative. The writing is flat. As such it comes across as a kind of … journeyman adventure. Fairly normal. An also ran. And that’s really unfair because the core of this is really quite good. Boring treasure, mundane & magical. Boring descriptions. This is the major flaw. The technical writing is good enough to communicate the vision in spite of this. If LeBlanc worked on the color a bit it would be a really stunning product.

A few other minor details. It would have been nice to have the major NPC’s, or at least names/summaries, on a reference sheet as well. The wanderers list, or the map, or the monster sheet or something. Every one who runs this is going to have to write down the names and tribes and personalities/a sentence of goals of them for reference. Might as well include it.

The new monsters could be a bit better described. This may be a subset criticism of the “color” flaw, above. It’s very … reference material from a victorian instead of OMG! WHAT IS IT!!!!

The wandering monster table needs some work. The wanderers need to be engaged in some activity. A small additional ‘activity’ table could help immensely with giving the DM a creativity boost. On a related front, a random entry for a “minor location” on the table would have been nice as well. It’s a small thing and provides a mechanism to get them in to play other than “hmmm, right about time to have something happen …”

Finally, a few of the monster bases could use some information on how they react. How do the mutant ogres, or undead family, or yeti, react to intruders … in an organized way?

I’ve left a lot of the good out of this review. The artifacts are VERY good. Not too powerful. Well described. Pretty good effects. The way some of the locations are puzzles (you need to go through a tiny crack at this location …) and how goodies are hidden nearby (Ah! a potion of diminution!”) I can go on. I’ve left a lot of the good out.

I don’t usually do this, but ….:
Richard J. LeBlanc Jr.: Go buy every Harley Stroh adventure for the new DCC line. If you’re poor then just buy Purple Planet. Take a look at the descriptive style. The language used. Add that. Win all the RPG’s.

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Tales from the Laughing Dragon

tld
by David Gerard & Contributors
Basic Fantasy
Levels 1-3

Fonkin the beloved gnome sage is missing. The town guard is busy fighting off brigands and doesn’t have time to look for him. A group of aspiring adventurers must take on the task and follow a clue that leads them to an old ruin and footsteps down into the darkness below …

This is a mostly mediocre set of three adventures, with some nicer touches in the second half of the last adventure. It looks like it may been a group effort project. It abstracts the narrative to a degree that makes me uncomfortable, providing exposition instead of gameplay. Most of the product feels more than a little bland and could use some punching up. COmbined with atrocious read-aloud, this is just Yet Another Adventure.

There are three adventures here. The first has the party searching some ruins (Dungeon Level 1) for a missing gnome sage. The second has the party searching Dungeon Level 2 for some items the gnome lost. The third has the party exploring the ground floor and catacombs of a keep, looking for the last item the gnome lost. It is the catacombs level in which things improve, and I’ll cover that separately.

The abstracted narrative is all in the beginning. The read aloud has five paragraphs of text. WAY more than the 2-3 sentences it should have. The second to last paragraph tells you that you spend the evening questioning the villagers and determine that the gnome must be in some nearby ruins. The last paragraph of the read-aloud puts you in front of some stairs in the ruins leading down into the darkness. This is a little too much for me. Someone has made a decision that all that matters is the crawl. The perfunctory hook is ham-handed, by being presented as soliloquy, and the ‘splaining was lame the first time it was used 30 years ago “the guards are busy.” I guess, if I squint very hard, this is all a valid style of play. That’s my liberal “ Do what you will the whole of the law” thing kicking in. But lordy lordy, I would not want to ever be involved in that style of play nor would I ever hope it was someone’s introduction to the hobby.

What it does is Cardinal Sin #1: Fail to inspire the DM to greatness. This trend continues throughout most of the three adventures. Boring guardrooms with boring and mundane descriptions. Describing what “used as a living quarters” looks like, and noting that there is nothing of interest in the room. Why describe it? Do people not know what a bedroom looks like? Do people not know what “being used as living quarters” means? “There is also a small statue of little value in the northwest corner.” Uh … thanks?

Here’s a good one “There is large crudely made mug sitting on the table, It is empty but still contains the dregs of cheap wine at the bottom.” That’s part of the initial room read-aloud. What’s the point? Oh, oh, I’ve got a better one! Room five is the patrol barracks. The read-aloud is six or so sentences long. It tells us that the room has an empty jar that smells faintly of wine. Note also that the DM text says there are two hobgoblins in the room. It’s like the read-aloud has no relation to what’s going on in the room. Overly descriptive and uninspiring at the same time. IE: the usual. Also, it’s a monster party! Orcs, goblins, bandits, hobgoblins, Trogs, bugbears! Never the same monster used twice in twelve rooms. I’m not a hard core ecology guy but stuff like that sticks out even for me. Better to just make them all brigands. The treasure is generally badly described generic stuff “a small statue of bone” and generic. Vampire SPawn stats are noted as being provided in the rear of the adventure … except they are not.

Let’s shift to the good, which is pretty much self-contained in the last adventure and almost all in the second half of the last of the three adventures. A small boy is in the catacombs under the keep you’ve assaulted. His parents have begged you to find him. This has a couple of interesting things going on and points out some missed opportunities.

There’s a nice undead horror aspect alluded to in the catacombs. A message on a tomb wall scrawled in blood. That’s not uncommon, but although the description is not altogether great, it works here. I think it does because of the continuing thread that it runs with. The undead in the catacombs are the boys relatives and they are protecting him. “Protect the boy” in dripping blood and (the implied) viscera works so much better when that theme is continued in several of the rooms and worked into the adventure. The horror aspect is continued with feeding undead, notably some zombies. D&D adventures need more ravenous zombies feeding. Ghouls get all the fun, and the incorporeal get some nice life-force stuff, but they should ALL feed. It allows the DM to invoke all of the “undead feeding” media they’ve ever seen. There’s also a nice bit of treasure of two here, like a gold comb in the shape of a dragonfly. It doesn’t take much, just a bit more, to add a lot of depth.

Let me mention two more things. There’s a necklace the party is given and, hopefully, the party learns that the undead fear/respect it. It marks you as a part of the family The undead attacks stop completely when the boy gets it. Up until that point it’s handled as a Turn Under modifier. I like the concept but not the mechanics. Tacking on the TUrn Undead ability just destroys the wonder of it. ALmost an attempt to describe WHY the undead cower. How about “it’s a family heirloom and they cower from it.” Done! The appeal to mechanics over flavor destroys the wonder of D&D.

Finally, I think there’s a missed opportunity of two in this last section. It’s implied that the undead haunt the bandits in the upper keep. This is in letters, and in finding an undead feeding on a goblin outside of the keep. This could have been beefed up quite a bit with REALLY paranoid brigands, or the keep actively under siege, undead at the last door, etc. That would have really continued and sold the horror theme that this last bit has. FInally, the entracte the catacombs is, I think, a trapdoor under a rug. (I looked several times and either missed it or it’s not there. Tying the levels together was NOT this adventures strong point.) THIS could have used some read-aloud flavor. A gust of cold dark wind, ominous stench, dust blowing out, a moan, something. This is the party ‘crossing over’ to the land of the dead in a horror adventure. They should wet themselves at the door.

So, the last little bit if better than the beginning and beings to provide some of what I’m looking for in an adventure supplement. The rest is forgettable.

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Dungeon Magazine #51

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Nbod’s Room
by Jeff Crook
AD&D
Levels 1-2

This adventures does what few can: marry a location to events to make it seem “like a living place. Well Done! A haunted room in an inn has teleporters to several other locations. This noted as a solo/5th level adventure or a group adventure for levels 1-2. It’s also an interesting idea that could use expansion. The concept is that there’s this room that weird stuff happens in, which turns out ot be haunted, have a variety of teleportation portal devices in it, and has at least one other thing going to. You “discover” it your first night at the inn, but you could just as easily slip in into a haunted hut, tower, etc, as an adventure locale. I think that’s what this one interesting: you can use it as locale and insert your own McGuffin. The premise is nice, it’s got a nicely described magic item, the command words to the various objects make sense and discoverable with a little work in town, it’s got some nicely developed NPC’s and at least one very good “scene” that’s not a railroad. It’s also wordy and presents information awkwardly sometimes, like when it’s describing the various rumors and NPC’s you can meet. But the core here is good. Teleportation from a normal room is a nice fantastic trope (Lion, Witches, and Wardrobes anyone?) and it’s done well here, like one inside a sea chest with a rope ladder in the inside top. Why’s there’ a rope ladder in the inside top? Well …. There’s also a very nice scene with some classic headhunters doing a ritual, and giant octopus rsing holding them in tentacles, etc. A little buff on the baddies and/or quantity changes could make this useable all the way to levels 3-4 or 4-5, I’d guess. The rumors & NPC’s are in paragraph form, which makes it awkward during play and in picking out information. I’d also like a little more “salty flavor” in my Sailor Jerry’s inn rumors, but at least you get some nice NPC’s to go along with them. Also, a very nice scene in an evil temple, complete with supplicating worshippers, etc, captured in media res. All Dungeon adventures seem to need work. With work this one could be VERY high on the top tier..

Journey to the Center-of-the-World
by Chris Hind
AD&D
Levels 8-10

This side-trek to a dragon graveyard is generic and lame but for two details. Someone in Fort Thunder tells you about an elephant graveyard that is three days away. (Seriously? The region is THAT unexplored?) The journey is not provided, but the graveyard/volcano caldera is guarded by a stone golem at the entrance rift. What’s interesting is the footprints the golem “stands at rest” in will perform a stone to flesh if you stand in them. That’s a nice detail. The actual dragon graveyard is boring and no well described or imaginative at all. There IS, however, a dying white dragon desperate for more life that is willing to bargain with the party. I love adventures where you can talk to monsters and make bargains. The dragon here is presented as dying in a day, or maybe just a few hours, and the bar for healing it is quite high. Lowering the bar or somehow buying more time would be a nice adventure hook. Also the adventure notes that he dragon might keep its side of the deal. This is a momentous day folks: this is the first time I can recall Dungeon magazine allowing an evil monster to not just be a total dick and renege. This location/dragon could serve as a nice sage location: you need some info the dragon has, it bargains for more life, etc. You now have everything you need for that; the DUngeon adventure will provide no more useful information or ideas.

Ailamere’s Lair
by Steve Fetsch
AD&D
Levels 6-9

This is a dragon hunt sandbox that reminds me more than a little of 100 Bushels of Rye, and excellent Harn adventure. As these go, it’s not terrible. The hook is probably the worst part: a bard hires you to track down and study a new type of Dragon “Guerrillas in the Mist” style. There are some villages to start in, villagers/farmers/refugees to question, and an outdoor expanse to explore, with a halfway decent events/wandering table. There’s a strong “Don’t kill the dragon” thing going on, and a magic item that allows you to reset time for that video game “checkpoint” vibe. The magic item is very nicely described and themed, if a bit powerful and gimmicky for the adventure. The wandering table has a nice mix of rumors from people, helpful ranger allies that are not TOO helpful, and random dragon stuff, like sightings, scales, claw marks, etc. The dragon gets some “you can talk to it” treatment, as well as some options for it living in “harmony” with the locals … or at least as close as you can get with a greedy evil dragon. There are some nice complications thrown in with an asshole guide, crooked guides, a vengeful villager, and a few other things like that. Nice sandbox layout with good supporting complications. The usual wordiness, and the “mining camp” needs some more life to it. It could also use some more … interactions? The dragon “actions” table is a little light, as is the wandering table, for the amount of time the party may spend wandering. If you can make the hook more interesting/plausible then this would be a decent adventure to steal.

The Witch of Windcrag
by Steven Smith
D&D
Levels 2-3

There are rumors of a witch living in a mountain cave, but it’s actually a three room harpy lair. There are two invisible traps, one of which provides a warning: “you hear the faint sounds of tinkling” that can be used by smart players to investigate safely. I like traps with this sort of warning mechanism. The second is just an invisible spiderweb. Webs are classic, but the invisible part feels like a gimp. The harpy also has just exactly the magic items she needs, from a sleep spell protection amulet to a couple of rings of animal friendship and the like. This smacks of “providing explanations why there is an invisible spiderweb in the lair” … which is lame. Just. Do. It. The mundane treasure is well described, which I greatly appreciate; for example a thick gold chain with a dragon head pendant and with pearl eyes. Not a lot of extra words but it does wonders for enhancing play. The rumor table tries hard but suffer from META. “A witch who uses air spells lives up there” or “a bard from a far away land.” This should instead be things like “A witch who throws tornadoes at you and whose gaze causes the wind to gust!” or “Princes Arda from the Lands of Musfta.” Must more interesting. Still, the core of “witch on a mountain”,” rumors”, and “windchime & spiderweb trap” are classics, and I LUV the classics.

The Bandits of Bunglewood
by Christopher Perkins
AD&D
Levels 1-3

A “Tuckers Kobolds” adventure. AKA: Killer Kobolds. Something is attacking caravans in the woods and there are conflicting descriptions of what it is … because no one wants to admit they were defeated by kobolds. The party encounters an ambush by the killer kobolds, tracks them through a trap-filled forest, and then enters their lair for a pitched battle. I’m torn on this. I like using the kobolds to maximum effect but the entire adventure smacks of rules-lawyering. “They get a -2 because of close combat” or “+4 because of the dark” or “-2 because of the cave height.” IE: the kobolds are given some fighter levels and “feats” and then every modifier in 2E is used to give the kobolds the advantage. It takes a page and a quarter to describe the 7 kobolds … with quote a lot of repetition of their abilities, all fully described. “Usability” may have been misunderstood … The kobolds are given personalities, which is interesting and a waste because they are just going to be hacked down and/or run away. There’s an optional NPC in the forest which does have a personality that comes in to play. A potential guide with several anger control issues. It does the “attack for one round and then stop” thing, which I can’t stand, but the concept of the NPC is a good one: a troubled creature with anger management issues who flies off recklessly at times. It’s written quite effectively: terse & evocative. There’s also a nice “Warning” in a description … a bird cawing right before the ambush is actually a kobold warning. Hidden things, like traps and ambushes, should get a warning thrown in with the flavor text. Inquisitive PC’s are then rewarded when they follow up with “What kind of bird?” or “What killed the guy by the door?” There are a couple of PC gimps in the adventure, the worst being a portcullis. “Hold Portal won’t keep it from dropping.” That’s lame; it discourages creative play. There’s some throw-away line in a LotFP adventure about how a body will stay dead if “Bless’ is cast. That’s in addition to the mechanical bonus. As the DM, never let the text of the rules inhibit creative and imaginative play. Finally, the rumors are presented as a little read-aloud scene. I like where they are going but dislike the monologue scene. Rather than large chunks of read-aloud for each rumor it would have been better to have a short bullet-list with a sentence or two of flavor. “Ol, Marty, that dwarf cobbler, sez they ‘er trolls. Smelt them they did since it was dark so’s he couldn’t see them.” Done. Next!

The Last Oasis
by Peter Aberg
AD&D
Levels 1-4

Utter and complete piece of shit. This, gentle readers, is the adventure that signals the End Times. This is it. 1995. The year RPG’s died. Previously Dungeon adventures had just been wordy and poorly written attempts at translating the designer’s vision to the purchaser. This one though … this one represents The Beginning Of The End. This is a fourteen page movie.

The characters, guarding a caravan, are caught in a sandstorm. Unknown to them, they are trapped beneath the sands and are slowly suffocating. Their spirits have entered The Borderlands between life and death. Travelling through the desert (they still don’t know they are dead) they encounter several strange things. They then find an oasis. The Last Oasis between life and death. There they meet the guardians and then five events happen on their way “back” to the crossover point between life and death, to return to their bodies. There is no meaningful choice. It assumes you kill the ghul you meet. It assumes you can’t keep up with people you meet. (It’s D&D. the players ALWAYS do something else.) It’s just a movie. No choice before the Oasis. In the Oasis the events start. No choice after the Oasis. The encounters after the oasis are represented as Events but they are actually Scenes. Events imply you have a choice. Scenes imply you do not. You. Do. Not. The movie keeps moving as planned.Do whatever. It doesn’t matter.

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