by Frank Mentzer
for Eldritch Enterprises
Generic Fantasy System
Minimally experiences characters
This is the first level of a megadungeon whose origins go back to the very early days of the game. It seems that a certain lich bought himself a dungeon … or rather, he caused a dungeon to be constructed, filled it full of stuff, and now sits back and watches as groups of murder-hobos make their way in to its depths. This being level one we don’t really know what lies in those depths yet … well, other than a lich presumably.
The book has a small section about the portion of the entrance to the dungeon which I really appreciated. Every good megadungeon needs a good entrance. Recall The Watcher in the Water/mellon, or Stonehells great foyer with its gaping maw. This time it’s a pair of pesky trees, shown on the cover, that guard and control access to the Lich Dungeon. Another great touch is the wandering monster tables for this area, except ‘wandering monster’ doesn’t quite describe things well. Oh, yes, there are some real wandering monsters of wildly divergent difficult levels however the real joy comes in the various organized bands of creatures. The party can meet another group murder hobos going to or coming from the dungeon. They can meet raiders picking over the bodies of a group they’ve recently killed, or perhaps encounter bandits aiming for the parties heads! I LOVE this kind of stuff. Not only does it make getting in to and out of the dungeon much more fun but it also provides bits of continuity for the game world. People you see one day show the next dead, or ambushing you. This helps contribute greatly that the place is a living breathing environment and that there are things going on outside of what the party is involved in.
Level One of the dungeon is a nice little bit of REAL old school. The place is crawling with the kind of stuff that shows up in home games all the time, and elements from the early days of the hobby. The Spanish Inquisition shows up not one but twice, complete with outfits and outrageous quotes. There are rooms and places designed to test the characters and the monsters that live on the level with number puzzle problems to confound the players. OMG I HATE these things! But the designer puts them in to be as minimally intrusive as possible, turning them from drudgery in to a nice little bonus reward for players and groups who want to try their hand. While these sorts of elements are nice they don’t really make up the heart of the bulk of the dungeon. Instead we get things like acid jello cubes that, when destroyed, collapse in a wave of acidic protoplasm all over the players shoes/feet as well as all over the bit of treasure behind it. THAT’s what I want in my dungeon! A weird and strange monster with a goofy death effect that impacts another element of the dungeon, forcing the players to think and act carefully. The dungeon is full of this sort of stuff. Most of the various encounter areas have something special going on with them: a bit of roleplaying, a nifty effect, or something similar. The dungeon does skew a bit more to the silly side than most products, but never really travels too far down the path of a jokey dungeon. The Spanish Inquisition is probably the example that falls the closest to jokey territory, and even it is toned down from the sketch.
The map is genuinely old school. Based on a single sheet of graph paper the dungeon fills every bit of it. Twisty turney corridors, secret doors, pools, weak floors, pits, the map is full of things for the players to get in to trouble with. The map is broken down in to sections and each map appears at the start of its rooms descriptions in the booklet. This type of format is also seen in Stonehell which used it to great effect. Most of the wandering monster table is not going to very interesting, orcs, rate, and the like. There are entries for groups of adventurers as well as dungeon maintenance crews of various type. A feature I did like is that the creatures have a ‘direction’ associated with them. The orcs come from a certain direction, representing where that groups barracks are. Sometimes I see this in modules in a slightly different format. AKA: reduce the number of monster X found in room Y by all of the losses suffered in this encounter. Again, I like this because it gives a bit of continuity to the dungeon. The orcs are coming from their barracks. My only problem with the map is probably just a personal preference: symmetry. Various portions of the map are repeated in different positions in the dungeon as mirror images of themselves. I LOATHE this. I think it’s boring and completely uninteresting.
This brings up the issues with the module. The primary one is the repeating patterns to be found. Four fountains, four mints, four loot-for-brains, meetings rooms, barracks, etc. The dungeon level has A LOT of repetition in it. This again may be personal preference but I don’t like seeing this sort of thing. It’s probably past trauma associated with symmetrical temples with earth/air/fire/water sanctuaries. In any event, there are only 65 or so encounter areas in the dungeon and a decent number of them repeat. This is exacerbated by the … verbosity? of the various entries. There is a lot of repetition. We’re reminded continually about the special effects related to the coinage of the dungeon, or of how the mints work, or that there is a loot puzzle nearby, or …. you get the picture. The monster stats also appear both in the text and in the appendix. This isn’t usually a problem however the generic stat system takes up a lot of page real estate, about a third of a column each. In possibly the worst possible example of this the outdoor wandering monsters table for the dungeon entrance takes up twelve pages as each monster is detailed both with its reactions/motivations (Yeah! I love this) and its stats (boo! repeat! boo!) There is a section that details WHY the author choose to things this way, to minimize page flipping, but combined with the generic stat system and the large font it gets a bit excessive. The 84 pages of the module detail only 65 encounters plus the entrance … not exactly the degree of terseness that I prefer.