Dungeon Magazine #138

It’s interesting, I’ve noticed another tonal change in Dungeon Magazine. The last few issues have contained adventures with a variety of styles. Linear, combat focused, more traditional styles. Accident or purpose? Who knows, but I do find the uptick in useful content refreshing. I’ve not been lothing my weekly review nearly as much.

Urban Decay
By Amber E. Scott
Level 2

Be aware: I’m fond of urban campaigns. Wererats. In sewers. Oh boy. Short & straightforward, the party learns some ratcatchers are missing. Checking in with the guild find the guild leader missing. A three room sewer reveals a wererat, which leads to a three room scow with another. End. I applaud the terseness, by Dungeon standards. This has a modicum of a low-tech/grunge feel to it, with a half-orc selling meat pies made out of rats and a “pigeon swarm” as guards in the sewers, as well as a giant cockroach. It’s nice theming. The NPC’s also fight to the death, for the usual reasons of fearing their superiors. Still, there’s room in this for roleplaying, bluffing enemies and the like. It’s getting pretty close to the platonic form of the lair-based/event adventure, but the roleplaying available and low-tech/low-life elements make it a cut above. It would make a nice little thing to dump in to an urban campaign.

The Weavers
By Richard Pett
Level 10

A long-winded linear adventure. Bob pleads with the party to stop an impending spider infestation in the city. You follow a linear trail, having fight after fight. Pretext after pretext for combat. Dude doesn’t answer his door and has a “guard drake.” Thugs don’t like people asking questions. On it goes. This is augmented by MOUNTAINS of justifying text. There has to be multiple paragraphs justifying the guard drake. Bobs mansion has a museum and there has to be a tour, to no purpose, so each room is described. The adventure goes on and on like this, as you follow the line,

The Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb
By Mike Shel
Level 14

This is the … fourth? version of this dungeon, I think? 2e (Dungeon #37), 3e (this issue), 4e and 5e. It’s a Tomb of Horrors like trap & temporal stasis dungeon full of puzzles. As I said in my d#37 review of the 2e version, the first room is a good example of what’s inside. Three names are on the front door in platinum letters. Examination reveals the letters of the last name “Elomcwe” can be depressed. Pressing “welcome” unlocks the door. By making this a Level 14 adventure it requires a pretext for gimping all of the players spells. Spells like augury, commune, contact other plane, etc were all originally used to AVOID death traps, but in this dungeon they, and others, are all gimped so the players can’t use them. This is a clear indication that the adventure is written for the wrong levels. Relying on Temporal Stasis is also a technique to disguise weak design. The puzzles, however, are top notch. A room with walls covered in eyes, all crying and moving. The tears are acid, making searching the walls for the secret door difficult. The adventure also illustrates the problem with the Search check. Previous editions had an element of player skill in the searching. The DM dropped hints in their descriptions, the players followed up and discovered things. In 3e this was abstracted to The Search Check. Just roll the dice, or take 20, and don’t bother with the more interactive portions. Rolling dice for routine resolution is boring as fuck. Once, running 4e RPGA at a con, a dude rolled his diplomacy to recruit an army of floating eyeballs from a bunch of wizards. “Uh, nope. What do you actually SAY?” I asked. “Uh, you’re one of THOSE dm’s. Can’t I just roll?” was the reply. This moment has stayed with me an excellent example of how mechanics can ruin play. Anyway, this is close enough to a clone of the D#37 adventure to be the same, except with the 3e mechanics. The 2e version, in play, should be stronger, because of the mechanics issues.

Challenge of Champions VI
By Johnathan M. Richards
Any Level

As with all of the others, it’s just a series of encounters for the players to overcome. It gets its “any level” designation because everyone in the contest gets the same stuff, provided in each room on scrolls, etc. Thus this is, essentially, a series of player challenges rather than character challenges. IE: the fun part of D&D/Combat As War. Generally the straightforward way is the worst way to tackle these situations, so ideas like “I stab it” are likely to be poorer choices than using your noggins. Creative play is encouraged. Still, I’m not really a fan of these. They require a game world with adventurers guilds with tryouts and a higher magic content than I’m comfortable with. As rooms that encourage open-ended play they are great though.

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7 Responses to Dungeon Magazine #138

  1. Confanity says:

    “This moment has stayed with me an excellent example of how mechanics can ruin play.”

    While I think we’re on close to the same page in terms of tastes – I’d rather my RPing be a matter of exploring and interacting with a fictional world through a sort of controlled group storytelling – your assertion here seems to ignore the fact that different people have different tastes and want different things out of their RPGs.

    I mean, there are people who eschew “mechanics” as much as possible and prefer a more free-form storytelling game, perhaps without any sort of GM role at all. For them, a D&D-style constraint limiting all but one player to controlling a single character (and even then being forced to rely on dice for action resolution) would “ruin play.”

    And toward the other end of the spectrum, there are people who just want a light roleplaying adventure framework to guide and color their tactical minis-based combat. Missing out on the puzzle-solving part of searching may “ruin play” for you, but for these people being forced to act out all these details just takes away from time they could be spending on combat and looting, and threatens to “ruin” their play.

    Imagine you had a DM who insists on playing out every minute of game-world time: when and where your PC pees every time they pee, whether they salt-and-pepper their food; whether they can identify the bird every time they hear a birdcall. There’s a drudgery dial that marks how much mundane detail is inserted into play, and you simply met a player whose dial is calibrated differently.

    I’m not saying you should give in to the lowest common denominator and gloss over every challenge just because someone would rather roll it than play it! Every group needs to find a balance based on the tastes of everyone, including the GM. But neither is it necessary to cast every difference in taste as a systemic failure that “ruins” things.

    • Fucktard's Everfull Ass says:

      Oh, I love story gaming! In fact, at my table, all the participants call each other Story as we take turns creating an everlasting group narrative shaped by our innermost experiences. In one hand a 60oz Mountain Dew, in the other the cock of the guy to the right. Everyone really gets off on this style of play!

    • krebizfan says:

      If a large portion of a published adventure was built around a certain type of challenge, when the adventure is ported to a game system that does not provide for the same challenge, new challenges need to be added or the adventure falls flat.

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