Dungeon Magazine #119

Dungeon Magazine has conditioned me to throw up in my mouth a little every time I read “the party must race to …” Also, that phrase actually means “linear plot” instead of what I believe to be the more common read of “time pressure.”

Unfamiliar Ground
By Christopher West
Level 3

A linear dungeoncrawl, but not terrible if you accept that limitation. A small section of caves, with goblins, is attached to the basement of a mostly destroyed necromancer tower. An old familiar, and imp, must obey the goblin chief, and he doesn’t want to. So we tries to get the party to attack the lair and kill the chief. It is assumed, I guess, that the parties curiosity leads them deeper in, to the old tower. The read-alouds are long-ish, and I didn’t find them particularly effective, concentrating as they did on the concrete and facts about the rooms like exits, dimensions and so on. The DM text is better, and generally short and to the point, much more so than the usual Dungeon fare. The goblins have an order of battle to respond to the party and there are nice elements, like a refuse pit and weird stuff in the tower basement to play with. It is, though, essentially a linear map and the hooks are meta-gamed to appeal to the party so they will follow the imp. This would probably work mostly fine as is, but you could rip it off, with a slightly larger and non-linear map, to great effect.

Wrath of the Abyss
By Greg A. Vaughan
Level 12

The third and final part of the adventure path. Ok, cities infected with a madness, only this giant cleric knows how to fix it, and they’ve been captured by the drow. The extraneous text is off the hook in this one, even by Dungeon standards. It is, essentially, a set of linear encounters with demons & drow underground, and then a big set-piece battle in the town that reminds me for all the world of those stupid video game battles where you destroy one boss only to have it morph in to another boss. Anyway, you kill a bunch of of the last remnants of House Eilserves, from D3, along with the drow vampire succubus pair, returned from the dead form THAT D-series encounter. It’s just a bunch of encounter, 1-2 pages long each, for the tactics pervs to masturbate over. You get to the last dude and HE’S willing to talk to you. Great. You question the giant cleric and return to town for the boss fight. The underdark cave map is multiple levels, with a chasm, which is nice, and the boss fight at the end DOES feel like a Dr Who/Video game end-game battle … which would be nice after enduring all the bullshit from these last two instalments.

Tomb of Aknar Ratalla
By Jack Flynn
Level 14

A small cave & dungeon/tomb complex full of ogres, undead, and traps. When you reach the end the tomb gets invaded by a baddie who wants the evil sword the last room contains. The party then gets to use the tombs traps, layout (several chasms) and maybe even monsters to beat back the incursion of the gnoll/yugoloth invaders. The map is relatively simple and probably doesn’t support the kind of hit & run & guerilla tactics that might be wonderful to see in a Dungeon Defender type adventure. It’s got some issues with things missing, like numbers and illusion walls and the like. There’s a room that collapses when weight heavier than human stands on it … right next to a large group of ogres. There’s shit tons of useless background about what each room was once used for and so on. On the plus side, you could/can keep the evil sword if you want, since it’s just an unholy weapon. Yeah! The defender concept is not a bad idea, and the dungeon has potential for that, for an adventure but I think it’s needlessly complex with the addition of all of the 3e demons and gnolls-with-classes combined with 3e stats/abilities.

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Out of Blackest Earth

By Mattias Narva, Terje Nordin
Svard & Svartkonst
Level 1?

Residents of the small town of Uriah are concerned. The grave site at St. Athanasius Church has lain derelict for a generation. But even if the ground is covered in dead leaves, and some graves are so weathered that the bones are visible, townspeople have nevertheless continued to visit their family grave sites. Recently, however, ghostly apparitions have been reported…

This is a nine page single-column graveyard/catacombs with 22 areas described in a minimal, but functional, manner. It is supported by a decent map and magic items and room descriptions/details that are just lacking … but just a little. Overall it’s a decent set up and dungeon and if it were a bit more evocative I could see it being a solid adventure. But … that’s with my ridiculously high standards. You may indeed find it fine the way it is. As “mini-dungeons” go, I wish they were all at this level of quality.

This thing only has nine pages … and three of those are maps and one more the cover. With a page of background that leaves four more for the keyed encounters … one of which is 50% blank and one of which takes up 50% of the page with a spell description. Using a single-column format, this thing is TIGHT. I wouldn’t call it “minimal”, but it’s about as close as you can get to that word and still be a fully functional adventure.

The background is all in one paragraph at the beginning of the document, supplemented a bt by a little rumor table. The villagers have seen ghosts in the local abandoned graveyard and are offering a reward to put the dead to rest again. The local graveyards are the real culprits, but they’ve awakened a spectre in the catacombs. Folks looking for terseness need look no further than this intro. It does a great job setting the scene and providing an overview of what’s going on. It, along with the rumor table, do a pretty decent job of supporting the DM’s efforts to run the hook while being almost bare bones. I might quibble some the place deserves another paragraph for a tavern with some major quirk to kind of anchor things. The tavern may be a trope, but if you provided a strong/evocative/creative one then the rumors would flow more naturally and you’d have that little bit more …because you know the DM is going to have to do it anyway.

From here the adventure launches straight in to the graveyard keys, of which there are seven, before continuing with the remainder of the 22 keys for the catacombs below. There’s a decent players copy of the graveyard map, which makes sense since the party can see the entire thing, but I wish there was just a little bit more provided here. It is natural for the players to look at the graveyard from outside of it and say “What do we see?” At this point the DM can throw out the players map. You’ve got two choices then. You can describe each of the keyed areas or wait for the players to wander about and describe them … which I think is a bit cumbersome. It would have been better to have a quick overview description of the entire graveyard. A little scene setter. Closely related, there are a couple of creatures in one of the sections, disguised graverobbers, who come out to scare folks. But if you don’t remember that fact then the characters could walk right by and you’d be left waiting until you got to that particular keyed entry. Noting that encounter on the map, or in the overview, would have a nice little assist to the DM.

The maps are, otherwise, great. The graveyard proper is a free roam wilderness-type area, albeit small, while the catacombs map is a decent layout with caves and catacombs, a few loops, a river, lots of detail on the map, and about five different entrances to get from the surface map to the under area. Very nice. The map isn’t just a key to the adventure but adds evocative details and creative play opportunities … at least more so than the usual dungeon maps do.

The encounters are pretty minimal in their descriptions. Focused. Encounter 4 is “Dry Well: A hatch to #12 is concealed in the bottom clay. There are scuff marks from a grappling hook on the edge of the well.” This level of description is, in general, pretty close to the minimum I think you can get away with and still have a chance of having a somewhat decent encounter description. It’s a dry well, we get that from the title. Clay on the bottom … scuff marks, and a note of where it links up to the lower level. If you will follow along with me for a moment and accept that this is a baseline, then we can judge the rest of the encounters by this one. ANother one is “Tombstones. 2 graverobbers are hiding amongst the tombstones disguised as undead. They try to scare away intruders.” Again, very focused, but I will note a major difference that sticks out because of the minimalism: the room title. “Dry Well” tells us something about the well that we can use to convey a feeling to the players. “Tombstones” gives us nothing but the noun. Adding “Weedy” or “crumbling” or even “faded” would evoke some kind of additional vibe in the DM. Likewise, room one is “Funeral Home”, but there is nothing much more provided except it has a stone bench to put a coffin on (I thought coffins were for vampires and caskets were for the recently departed?) and a carved stone skull on the wall. Adding one word to the title could be “Ruined Funeral Home” or “Bright lit Funeral Home” or “Collapsed Funeral Home” All of these give us just a little bit more … and that little bit more is what the preponderance of the adventure descriptions are lacking. It needs just a little more. Minimalism is an art. There are NO extraneous words in this adventure … but it has, I think, crossed the line and left out a few words.

The creatures are vermin & men, for the most part, which I like. In particular one of the beetles has the following little bit about the poison they spit: “the opponent su ers extreme pain, chemical burns, blisters and a –2 penalty to hit rolls for 1 day, or until the spell cure light wounds is used.” Yes, there’s the mechanical effect, but I really liked the additional little bit about blisters and burns and pain. It’s fucking obvious, of course, if you think about it. But the writers have put just that extra little touch in to help the DM add a little more flavor to their game … without going overboard. That’s a GREAT touch and it left me wanting more.

There’s some nice magic items, like a religious relic skull that helps you out with turning, nice mundane treasure in the form of things like a silver death mask, a ring that stops aging, and a new spell. In particular, the magic items mechanics are not exhaustively described. The ring stops aging and if you take it off the years catch up with you. The end. The skull allows for turning undead once an encounter. Nothing more. I understand some people want more in the way of mechanics but I think the game has turned too much in that direction and a little more wonder, mystery, and ambiguity is in order. I would note, as well, that there’s an orb that, if broken, animates all of the dead in the graveyard and they go to town to wreak havoc … ala Death Frost Doom?

Besides the (missing) descriptive words there are a few other things that could be better. The graverobber gang could use a few more words, maybe on negotiations or deals or reactions or organized defenses, etc. Likewise the adventure abstracts things at times. “Plundered grave goods worth 1,800gp.” Another two sentences for this would have both provided some little bits (hopefully more than “rings, lockets, necklaces”) and perhaps some hooks both to follow up on for more adventures or complications that come from fencing family grave goods.

Anyway, pretty decent adventure. Inoffensive with some good ideas. I’m keeping it. Apologies again, to the designers, for mutilating their “umlaut” names. Sorry, I’m an ignorant american who can’t remember the magic keystrokes. On the strength of this adventure I’m motivated to look and see what else they’ve done.

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Ghosts of Graygrim

By Matt Kline
Creations Edge
Swords & Wizardry
Level 8-10

The ruins of Graygrim Manor sat silent for years. Now sounds drift from the ruins at night that suggest they may be haunted. And travelers to the sleepy town of Shadywood have begun to go missing. Again…

This is a 26 room manor-basement dungeon spread out over eighteen pages. Creations Edge does a lot of these short projects and, thus far, they’ve all been of a similar vein. A little stodgy, vanilla, and straightforward, it does a decent job with treasure and with a couple of “complications” that arise during the adventure. The set up is inoffensive, but otherwise the descriptions are flat with a sameness and … genericism? to it. The map is pretty bad, being just three hallways, each with doorways hanging off of it.

The hook is a 2000gp reward or, even worse, “hired to look in to a disappearance.” These are the usual hooks that show up in almost every adventure ever published. There’s nothing to them, especially for a level 8-10 character group. It devolves to metagaming: “this is the adventure we’re playing tonight. Just accept the mission.” That’s kind of inherent in all D&D, but hooks which go a little beyond that deserve special praise. This ain’t that.

Anyway, the village is suffering attacks. The smith was abducted. Please go up to the old haunted ruins and check it out. The whole setup is ok, in concept, but falls down in execution. There you find a secret door leading to a dungeon with a werewolf, a vampire, and a bunch of 6HD goblin-based baddies. There are two little interesting bits in the lead up to the dungeon. First, while half the village hails the party as saviors, seeing as they are suffering raids by the “ghosts”, the other half abuses them for not coming sooner. Especially those villagers who have lost loved ones. Ouch. That’s some good stuff right there. It’s not really expanded on in any way beyond what I’ve described, but even that little bit is pretty decent. The mayor calms things down, but you should be able to get some great roleplay out of that. There’s also a small boy who can relate some info to the party and guide them to the secret door; he shouldn’t be playing up there and found it but offers it up to the party in private. He also hangs around the ruins. And later follows them in. It’s suggested that the vampire capture him in the final room, but I think that’s pretty hackneyed. But having him follow the party in, get in to trouble, be escorted out, go in again and have the vampire grab him DURING the combat? That, also, is a bit of a classic, but I like the dynamic nature of it.

The treasure is above average as well. A black opal attached to a silver necklace … covered in bits of flesh. A black onyx ring in silver engraved with a vine pattern. A glass globe with a faint hint of a tiny ghost figure inside and a silver ring surrounded by a shimmering blue flame hint at the magic items. Nice little touches although they turn out to be a bit mechanical in their uses, summoning a stalker and doing 1d4-1 fire damage to attacks. But, still, nice effects and descriptions.

There are, I think, three major issues: the descriptions, the monsters, and the map.

Terse isn’t exactly correct. “This room holds four large treasure chests.” Ok …. “This room contains excess material for crafting weapons in the forge.” Ok …. Those are the descriptions for two of the more mundane rooms. For the fantastic, how about “This large rectangular room holds a sunken pool. The pool seems to be filled with blood.” It’s not overly long, to be sure, but nor does it add … anything? to the adventure. This gives the rooms the generic/vanilla vibe I mentioned in the introduction. You can, to be sure, do something with this. But you’re also bringing a lot of your own to the party to do this and one of my core philosophies is that it’s the job o f the adventure writer to bring those evocative, effective impressions to the DM party. This doesn’t do that. Room after room, it doesn’t do that. A room or two has something interesting in it, like a bookshelf or prisoners, but for the most part the actual rooms are little more exciting than the read-aloud descriptions.

The map is VERY simple. You come down the stairs in to a square room. Three other exist, one in each wall. Each one has a corridor with doors hanging off it, with rooms behind the doors. That’s not too good. It doesn’t really provide much playability from the map. No real ambushes, bypassing things, or fear from the unknown. Additionally, one hallway, with doors on both sides, has both prisoners, locked doors, and goblin monsters in them. The map would have been an excellent way to show which of these rooms has monsters, which doors are locked, and so on. That would have been a great reference aid for the DM so they could then go look up rooms if the baddies start pouring out of the doors. But, alas, no. It does show secrets, and room features, so it’s a bit of a poser why locked doors also weren’t shown.

The goblin/vampires are the last issue. There’s a lot of them. They are all 6HD, serving the vampire. I can deal with that, I guess, by thinking of them as vampire spawn like creatures. But them come off, with their numbers, and HD, as just generic goblins. “2 goblins live in this room.” “4 goblins live in this room.” Well, shit, that’s pretty shitty even if they WERE just goblins. But as goblin/vampire-like hybrids its a little lame. “This cell serves as the living space for two stirglins. They will be here asleep under moldy blankets.” If you are going to treat them like humans (not even goblins …) then why not just make them humans? Degenerates or something? I HATE it when my abominations live like human guards in the dungeon, with bends and playing cards and the like. Bleech. No flavor. Which is too bad because little degenerate blood-sucking goblins would be kind of cool. Their quantity also makes the dungeon a little hack-festy, which if generally a no-no for S&W, I think.

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Dungeon Magazine #118

Box of Flumph
By Tim Hitchcock
Level 1

The usual sort of Dungeon dreck. It’s event based, has a small “investigation” that leads the characters around by the nose with a plot element and LOTS of advice on to keep people on the tracks. It all ends with the usual big combat and has lots and lots of backstory and history that are meaningless to actual play the adventure but clog it up.

The town guard want to keep an eye on a known criminal but are just too busy, so they hire the party from a job board. Asking around they find out the guy was seen in a tavern on the pier. Making a DC40 check (at level one …) lets the party know the guy has a room at the tavern. OR, if the party just leaves then there’s a scream from upstairs. A thief with a paid hit contract on the guy has entered his room and found a flumph in a crate. Combat ensues. If the flumph lives it sends them to a ship to save its family. If the flumph dies then someone outside sells the party the location of the ship, and the bad guy. On the ship his buddies stick up for him and are rewarded by him sinking the ship, bringing some sea ghouls in to the combat also.

The investigation is nothing more than the token stuff, a simple excuse for events & plot. And no real chance of failure. It’s just a sad sad adventure with nothing at risk and no real reward. The family unit of Flumphs is weird also. It sounds like a Leave it to Beaver family unit. More monsters without character. *sigh*

Shadows of the Abyss
By Greg A. Vaughn
Level 11

Part two of a three part arc that started last issue. And another of the usual Dungeon do-nothing hack-fests. The sage from the last adventure is missing. His staff thinks its all normal and are not worried. A day later the party gets a note telling them to meet up or the sage dies. From there the path leads to an abandoned fort with giants in it. Hacking through it you find that the giant that knows about the evil god in your city has been taken to the underdark. Sorry Mario, your princess is in another castle. Because I’m a lazy designer. The usual “nondetection” crap is at play, so you can’t skip shit. There is, weirdly, a few location (three) in the region that are given an overview. All of the overviews are pretty decent, with nice little hooks to hang your hat on … but there’s no real reason for them to come in to play, and they are VERY location specific. One room has some treasure stuffed inside a dead orc head. Nice touch that. Otherwise, it’s a pretty forgettable adventure.

Throne of Iuz
By John Simcoe
Level 14

IUZ! My Boy!
All that bullshit backstory from D&D about Iuz is lame. I will always think of him as an adventurer that became a demigod. All his shit continually reminds me of player character scheming. A murderhobo made good! Anyway, the adventure … in which Iuz doesn’t appear …

There this elf forest. Inside of it is a 80 mile long by 50 mile wide blighted area. The elves don’t know about it. Some orcs have made it a home. They recently ventured outside of it and took over and defiled an elven burial ground. They are building a “throne” for Iuz underneath it … which really doesn’t do much except kill plant line all around it, so not really an Iuz throne after all. Anyway, the elves are clueless and all of the orcs, all 105 of them, are LEAST cr9, with quite a few being in the 14-16 range. Cause, you know, the adventure is written for level 14 characters. Anyway, some generic hooks are thrown out. Does your CR14 character want to investigate a caravan disappearing? No? Go on a fetch quest for a poor half-elf noble? No? Two strikes on the Boring-O meter. The third hook send the party after the orcs to unlock hidden powers in some weapon/item they’ve recently gained, which is better. The whole thing is just one area, a burial mound, with all those CR9-15 orcs, and 15 chimeras they’ve trained to fly around on. Their leader, under the mound, is a giant CR16 frog. There’s invisibility purge items in the camp and mounds and mounds (get it! Get it?!) of backstory for items, people, and locations which will absolutely NOT come in to play in any way.

Most of the sins of bad high level adventures are present. Lame-o hooks that assume the party are still level 1 scroungers. Magic items that work against you but you can’t use. (So what if the party takes the giant inviso purge geodes? They’re level 14, who cares?) No digging/teleport gimping, but the inviso purge area stands out, in order to ruin a stealthy assault. And there’s the CR9 orcs riding a flock of tamed chimera.

Most of this could be solved by making this a lower level adventure. Level 5 or something. Then the orcs are still mundane and still a real threat. The giant frog as their king would be cool. Maybe a chimera as a pet or something. And, most importantly, it would introduce a major villain, Iuz, through one of his minor dudes, the giant frog, thus foreshadowing a major villain to come: Iuz.

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Sloven Hills

By Eldrad Wolfsbane
Self Published
Back To The Dungeon
Level 3-5/5-7

At last! Details of who and WHAT the Witch Queen Mauug is! Can the brave adventurers defeat the Witch Queen Mauug and her Army of Monsters? Will the players foolishly try and take her on while she is in her own home territory?

Warning: I like failed towns/villages, and the one in this adds a lot.

This twelve pager, two of which are empty/useless, is labeled an adventure but I’d probably instead refer to it as a small region setting. It does a nice job of invoking a kind of forlorn atmospheric setting. Hand drawn pencil-sketch maps keep things simple to supplement the adventure, but it has an absolute dearth of treasure. None, in fact, magic or mundane. It’s for the “Back to the Dungeon” rpg, so maybe that’s ok in that system … but it’s still kind of boring. This would be a kind of cool little (desolate, despondent) region in which to locate some other adventure, allowing the party to experience the town, the rumors, and the machinations of the monsters.

The region is staked to three major areas: the town, the old manor lands, and the ruined watchtower. All three, together, have fifteen locations defined. The town is full of grumpy old Knights & Knaves Alehouse people. The old manor complex has four encounters, each with a different creature(s), while the Devil’s Watchtower has the remainder.

The locations all have this somber feeling of dread, or maybe despair, that comes through. Here’s a section from the introduction to the manor ruins: “Always dark in Sloven Bog as the trees evilly block out much of the light. The place is lonely during the day. It’s decaying ruins cry out to be lived in once again, but like all sad tales it shall never be.” There’s a group of giant scorpions in the abandoned family temple. “If left alone they will not attack as they have just fed on an entire family of unicorns.” All of the encounters, and descriptions, have this same sort of … I don’t know. Dread? Despair? The orphanage (of course there’s an orphanage in town!) has “over a hundred sickly pale children.” A regional patriarch runs it. She’s mean. She’s helped by her six grossly fat sons who scream at and beat the children. It goes on and on. I AM particularly fond on failed villages, and there’s really not an overabundance of detail here, but man I do love this. All of the locations have this appeal to a kind of iconic or archetypical element and I can really groove on that.

Having said all that … it could do a better job with language. It engages in telling instead of showing in places, like “This is a really scary area.” Hmmm, ok, but why? Likewise there’s a hag with a decent description “A Death Hag is a hag of great evil that haunt dark forest and swamps. Looks like a hairy rotten old woman 10′ tall.” Yes, that counts as a decent description. I like the rotten old woman, ten feet tall, shadowy, in a dark forest … but she lives there, in a bog. A little hag house description, just a sentence or two, would have been nice. That goes for many of the areas. There’s a forest, one of the few locations with no creatures, that could really use some “mist & sunlight rays” added to the description to bring it all home. Just a little bit more in a few areas could have really brought this home.

Anyway, this is a REALLY bare bones, single column affair. I think something like only two people have names, and the town is really nothing more than a tavern, a couple of places to get in to trouble, and some descriptions of how surely the people are. As a kind of idea kickstarter I like it, and may incorporate it as the “surrounding lands” outside one of my dungeons.

It’s $1.20 at DriveThru.

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The Globe

By John Battle
Swords & Wizardry?
Level 4?

Among the snow globes that sit gathering dust there is one quite unlike the others. One is full of sand and an ancient library. Shake it and you’re transported to the dungeon.

This is a free 27 room ziggurat inside of a snow globe. It’s a nice journeyman effort, doing nothing spectacularly but also not really failing in any area and hitting on a consistent above-average level with periodic GREAT content. It does a pretty good job of toeing the line being fast, loose, and evocative. It looks like it’s some kind of introduction to the OSR style for folks from the 5E/Pathfinder world. I don’t know about that, but I do know it does a pretty decent job of invoking a kind of OSR style. It certainly has room for improvement, quite a bit so in the “editing” category since there are lots of places where little bits are missing/overlooked. But that’s a pretty minor quibble, especially if we consider this a first draft effort.

The set up is exactly what the intro says. There’s almost nothing more to it but what’s in the introduction. And you really don’t need much more. The front cover, above, gives you a pretty good idea what the party sees: some ancient stone ruins covered in sand. Other than this there’s a very short background section and then a short description of the four major factions in the dungeon.

What’s great is that almost everything is focused on the players. How the players interact, how they interact. There might be a sentence or two of background, but most of the history and NPC sections are devoted to the actual play. How the DM can use the data.Where the monsters wander. How to use them. This is a theme over and over again in the dungeon. The dross is cut out and what’s left is play focused. Short, punchy descriptions with stickiness to them that remind me a lot of the best the OSR has produced. And it’s all got this slightly weird vibe to it.

The map has several levels, with several staircases and features to it. Same-level stairs, an outdoor element to get to some spires, ramps, sand choked hallways and stairwells. It’s a Logos map and it’s one of his better efforts. Sometimes his maps can feel small or linear. Not this time. Multiple entrances to the complex, light vertical/three dimensional elements, and a nice isometric sort of overview map to show how all of the levels and elements work together.

I mentioned factions. There are probably at least four. First you’ve got these weird “mummy” things that are some kind of cross between sandmen, mummies, and zombies. They beg for help, crawl, wail, and … Wait, here’s the quote: “They don’t understand what has happened to them, that they have already died and walk as undead. So they crawl, limp, and stumble towards anything that lives while they beg for help.” That’s pretty nice. It’s one of the better monster descriptions, and reminds me a bit of those great undead descriptions in the better Dragonsfoot adventures.

Beyond the zombies we’ve got a sphinx looking for answers to a riddle, an NPC party running around, and a “twisted lich” who’s only goal is to steal teeth. More than enough to work with. And some of them have random starts, clues that they’ve been in certain rooms, and or move around the dungeon.

It’s got four pages of maps and around four pages of keyed rooms and about four pages of monster/faction descriptions, background, etc. This is all done with a good font, wide margins and easy to read formatting. I approve. I don’t think it was probably anything more than a standard Word template, two column (the headings look like a familiar Word section heading font/colo.)

The room descriptions, as I mentioned earlier, are quite focused. Here’s an example from room three: “Door chained from the outside. A Mummy wriggles its arm between the door and frame. The chain is new.” Mummy arm wriggling is a great classic image. The chain being new tells the party things … someone else is here. That kind of simple and classic encounter type is present over and over again. The language isn’t exactly flowery or overly obtuse, more straightforward. But the focus present there in that description is great. One step more than minimally keyed. The adventure does this sort of thing over and over again. Broken furniture piled in front of doors, skeletal corpses piled on the floor, reaching out, as if trying to escape. The traps gives clues to their existence sometimes, like “pulverized stone and a flattened decaying body”. It even has just a slight touch of silly in places with the sphinx treasure being focused on “headgear/hats” and the library having a “Fanfic” section.

And now for the negatives. The mummies shows up as wandering monsters, mostly, and have a 33% chance every turn. That’s a pretty high chance/lots of mummies, even if they are capped at 30. They also range from one to four HD. I would probably vary the descriptions of them, in play, to give some clue as to their differences … then again I hate 8HD orcs. Silently changing the rules CAN be used nicely in games … but it seldom is.

The adventure also has some typos in places. “NPC sits in the magic circle.” … that sounds like a fill and replace mistake, and there are a couple of other examples of that sort of thing as well … hence the “first draft” comments above. In addition there are little errors of omission … at least I think they are omissions. A few monsters stats are left out here and there. In addition there are little bits that I think could have used just a FEW more words. One romo has some Draught in it … gin made from coffin wood. That’s just begging for one more sentence noting drunk effects and bonuses to death saves, or some such. There are a few other examples of little things like that. The treasure is not generic/terrible, being one step above with descriptions like “scarab earrings” and “amber ring”, and in some cases they are REALLY nice. But they could, in general use a few better words to bring them to life a bit more. It’s also not clear to me that there’s enough loot in the dungeon. It’s somewhere around level three, I’d guess?, and there doesn’t seem to be more then about a level one amount of treasure present, for XP=GP games. Finally, the writing, while serviceable, is a little straightforward.

This is one of the better free adventure I’ve seen. Buffed up a bit it could be a solid nine on a ten point scale.

This is free at:

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Dungeon Magazine 117

Fallen Angel
By Keith Baked
Level 3

A linear adventure inside a glass tower in the Fallen district of Sharn to recover a statue. You’re hired by a rich chick to recover a statue fragment, a hand, stolen from her. She sends you to a cleric in the Fallen district, a real scum/cannibal/hellhole district of the city. The cleric points you to a tribe of feral humans in a certain hall. There you find a glass spire from a fallen floating tower is sticking out of an old manor hall. Exploring you fight some bestial sub-humans and their doggy pets. It’s strictly a linear affair, with the investigation portion being quite small. It’s got a terser writing style than most and if you squint REALLY hard you can get some evocative imagery out of the thing. Mostly because the setting is relatively fresh with a small streak of fantasy-ish gonzo (instead of sci-fi gonzo.) It has a decent magic item, a book that lets you learn to speak blink dog, as the cannibal barbarian sub-humans do, at times, allow for some talking and negotiation. Not bad for Dungeon, the concept is a decent one. Better imagery and a more fully fleshed out journey to the tower and hall/tower interior would have turned this in to something quite interesting. I’d run this if I were desperate, or rip the ideas off for something of my own. Then again, I’m quite partial to an all-urban campaign.

Touch of the Abyss
By Greg A. Vaughan
Level 11

This adventure, the first of a three-part arc, is supplemented by an overview of the city, Istivin, it takes place in earlier in this issue of Dungeon. In this first part the adventurers are introduced to the failing city and encouraged by a sage to seek out answers in the keeps deep dungeons. This thing has some nice atmospheric bits in the general overview sections of it but then falls down in the MEGATEXT it bogs things down with and the decidedly un-creepy room real-alouds in the dungeon. The hooks include a kind of mad scramble for lands & title in order to get the party to the city, which seems a nice follow on to G1-2-3 in the history. The city is failing and this is communicated to the DM well in several paragraphs at the start, much more so in fact than the stand alone city guide that also appears in this issue. There are some events to spread out that do a decent job of bringing the creepy also. It all leads to this sense that the city is failing. But the lengthy stat blocks, tactics sections, nightmare-length sage read-aloud, and general obsessiveness with rules in the text drags it down. Once the dungeon is reached it again does a decent job of setting the scene, generally, and even has a decent empty room or two, with flooded stairwells and so on. But the ACTUAL encounter rooms tend to the boring side of things with the magic of those other rooms lost. This could be A LOT shorter and would gain immensely from being so.

The Winding Way
By Nicolas Logue
Level 14

“Players must survive The Winding Way, a series of deathtraps and trials created by the orders head to test the skills of senior students.” IE: The curse of S1 strikes the unimaginative again. I try to comment on the work, rather than the artist, but these deathtrap/trials/tests stuff seem like the epitome of lazy design. … Having read it … There’s nothing to this. It’s fifteen encounters in a courtyard-ish monastery and then six linear deathtrap encounters. Undead, intelligent undead, monstrous undead … it’s just fight after fight with some deathtrap shit at the end. The undead are generally non-standard, which is nice, but their use as combat-fodder negates anything interesting actually coming from that.

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Too Many Kobolds

aka: One Too Many Kobolds

By Mark Reed
Heroic Journey Publishing
Swords & Wizardry
Levels 1-3

The player characters have been hired first by the town of Coventon to clear out a pesky Kobold nest that has been harassing the town.

This is an eight page ultra-minimal adventure with a one-page village, a one-page five room kobold lair and a one-page ten room goblin lair. The town and set up has some nice bits, but the lairs are WAY too minimal. Frankly, there’s not really enough content here to even do a review.

The intro is about half a page, single column, and is more of an outline or the adventure than an introduction. The mayor hires you. The kobolds retreat. A few days later a halfing hires the party to clean out the kobolds again, since they retreated to his land. But it’s a double-cross! The kobolds paid him to send the party to goblin caves! It’s suggested, as a follow up, that another group of kobolds then hires the party to give them advice about their own caves, since the party is such experts at cleaning out kobold/goblin caves and they don’t want to get caught in a bad situation by adventuring murder-hobos … and then further that maybe another party shows up while the party is in the caves giving advice! There are a few other details present in this section, like how many kobolds and goblins are present in the lairs. That’s important because …

WOW are the lairs minimally keyed. The map, monster stats, and keyed descriptions all fit on one page for the kobold lair and another page for the goblin lair. The descriptions are “2. The Kobolds main Room. The majority of the warriors are located here eating or training.” That’s pretty fucking minimal. No treasure listed. Not even monster counts. That’s all up to the DM. The shamen room has this gem It is decorated to venerate the god this band follows.” … nothing more.

The village fairs a little better, with a few more bits of detail to flesh things out. The halfling innkeeper has cheap rooms but pushes “upgrades” for everything & service. That’s something to run with. It makes him interesting and memorable with lots of opportunity for fun play emerging from it. Likewise, the mayor offers 30gp each, even though the merchants put together 50gp each. Mayors got to have a finders fee, right? It also provides one of the best explanations ever in an adventure on why/how someone is willing to go up in reward price.

There’s really just not enough here though. The core concepts are nice but the fleshing out of them is essentially non-existent.

It’s a buck a DriveThru.

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Troubling Events

By Shane Ward
3 Toadstools Publishing
Labyrinth Lord
Level 1

Set in the city of Yahleui, the heroes have only recently come to the continent of Crimhuck, seeking adventure. The heroes are met by a large comely woman in a tavern called the “Winding Trail”, her name is Hilde. She tells them that if they can safely get a magical ring to her employer deep in the sewers under the city they will be rewarded with precious gemstones.

This is a free 24 room dungeon crawl, ostensibly in the sewers. It’s above-average in the variety of encounter options and doesn’t drone on, keeping its text generally tight and focused. As a cohesive whole it fails to deliver. A good hard hitting second draft of this dungeon could pack & deliver like UPS trucks. As written, it’s a bit random and disconnected but with decent variety and a style that is not odious.

The designers notes (GOD how I LUV designer’s notes! I really do!) indicate the core of this was procedurally generated from some random tables. The designer then took the results and massaged things in to a story and more coherent dungeon. This is all true. Once told this you can see a bit of what must have come up on the tables and how it was then twisted in to a more coherent whole. I’m reviewing this primarily because of that methodology. This sort of “roll some dice to get some inspiration” thing is something I believe in and I wanted to review something that fell clearly, explicitly, in to that category. The designer has done a pretty good job of taking those dice rolls and turning them in to rooms. They’ve done a less great job of turning the entire thing in to a coherent whole.

There’s not much lead in, essentially it’s just what’s in the intro paragraph at the start of the review. The only additional details are that a guardsman overheard your conversation with the woman and that some thieves, who originally stole the ring and then in turn had it stolen from them, as are on the track. This is the wandering monster table. On a one the thieves track you down and on a two the guards track you down.

The map is a decent mix of loops, hallways with rooms off of them and hallways that run in to rooms. Certainly it has enough complexity to run a decent exploration game and provide that darkness and sense of the “black unknown” that influences a good exploration dungeon. It’s supposed to be an unused sewer, but doesn’t really resemble that at all and once you get past the room one entrance “along the riverbanks with no sewage flowing from it” then I don’t think “sewers” is ever mentioned again. Thank God. (But Wait! Don’t forget I’m a hypocrite!)

The encounters proper are ok. Not great and not terrible. There’s a sentence or two about the room, first impressions and the like, and then a couple of more sentences, set apart is a second paragraph in italics, that is DM/secret information. It’s a decent enough format. The “normal” text could be used as read-aloud, if you were pleased to do so. Maybe that was the intent since room dimensions are included at the end of each one. “The room is 15×15.” As read-aloud that’s ok, I guess, if you’re more interested in a fact-based approach (yuck!) than artistic license impressions (Yeah!) If it’s not meant to be read-aloud then it’s duplicative and should have been removed since that information is on the map. The descriptions proper are not terrible interesting. “Two human guards are asleep in chairs, an empty bottle of wine sits on the table” is pretty much the highpoint of the descriptive style in use. It’s not overly long (yeah!) but also not particularly good/interesting/evocative writing(Boo!) The DM text is similar. Straightforward, not laser-like focus but still ok. “ There is a magical trap in this room, when the door is opened and the PCs walk into the room it fills with black smoke. The smoke is harmless and is meant to keep the guards from eating too much.” That’s not a bad. Maybe a bit clumsy at the start, and maybe I’d choose different adjectives and adverbs, but with a little thought it’s pretty easy to see how it can be used to decent effect. Most of the rooms are like this; they have something beyond just a straightforward hack/combat, most generally towards the more mundane but still interesting side of the spectrum. Decent variety, some weirdness, a few traps, people to talk to sometimes.

The rooms, put together, is where things fall down. Individually they generally work ok. Put together as a whole they make less sense. The guy you’re delivering to is pretty close to the entrance. Some of his allies are scattered around in other rooms, but he hasn’t told them you’re coming and reaction checks determine their desire to kill you on the spot. (not to mention his reveal that it was all just a test … UG!) The rest of the dungeon is just THERE … not really working together in any way, not really related. I may hate sewer themes but saying it’s in a sewer and then having virtually NOTHING to do with a sewer is a bit of a let down also. Level theming can be great thing.

The entire thing needs a serious rework. Moving things around, bringing out the sewer theme more (or eliminating it) and making the rooms relate to each other more instead of just being, essentially, unconnected to each other.

I’d like to suggest that a mistake was made with this adventure. The background, and then the core conceit, is that this is a large old city and the ruler may be some kind of evil vampire lord. Combined with the decent map and keys, I think a significant opportunity has been lost. If level one was MORE of a sewer (I know! Heresy! Especially from Mr “I-Hate-Sewers” Lynch!) and there were MORE entrances from the surface and some entrances to lower levels then this could serve as the kicking off point for a megadungeon! Level after level underneath, each themed. Level one’s map would need some tweaking, and the keys need an overhaul, but they need to be put together better anyway, so not much loss there. The background with the city & vampire rules has potential. The map and keys show potential. There’s not may adventures that suggest there should be more, or even could lead to a megadungeon … even some megadungeons. I think this one does. But, not in it’s current form.

You can pick it up at the 3 Toadstools website.

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Dungeon Magazine #116

Palace of the Twisted King
By Phillip Larwood
Level 5

Three encounters in an abandoned desert waypost with five menlocks. They do hit & run tactics on the party. It’s trying to create a creepy vibe, and has some decent suggestions for doing so. Some charcoal drawing, nver over a few feet high. Small bits of bone, gnawed upon. Asking for listen or spot checks. Taking a player in to another room just to tell them something innocuous, like they found a gold coin or some such. There’s a dc30 spot check that needs to be made on the EXACT square of trapdoor, which is a little ludicrous. (Maybe not? I don’t remember how large spot checks get at level 5 in 3e.) I’m not a big fan of the hit&run stuff from the dimension door abilities … I’m perhaps too damaged by adversarial DM tactics. The major problem, as always, is the length. It goes on about history and background ad nauseum. Oh, the caravans used to get their water from the well? Never would have imagined that! The effect is to hide the actually relevant details. The well has ID Moss in the side … which i buried in the middle of a long paragraph. Then there is the arbitrary crap. That loose flagstone, hidden by the DC30 spot check? It can’t be removed from the top. It’s not locked or anything. It just can’t be removed. What? Seriously? Again, this raises the Suspension of Disbelief issue, which, when in an obstacle, raises the spectre of the adversarial DM. There’s some german film, Funny Games, where one of the asshats, torturing a couple in their home, is killed. His buddy shouts “No!” and then rewinds the film and does something so it won’t happen. Bad DM! But, anyway, there IS some nice advice given about creepiness, although pacing could use a few words also. I just wish it weren’t buried by the immense amount of irrelevant text. In spite of the advice, I just don’t think this one has enough going for it to make it worth it.

Death of Lashmire
Psionic Heavy
By Tim Hitchcock
Level 12

Bob the psionic is in his lair when it’s attacked by some Gith looking to get a silver sword back. The party stumbles in for some lame pretext. There’s no point. It’s like watching a movie. I guess you could help one side or another. But why? ALso, some Gith attack and enslave you if you surrender/talk to them when they ask you to. What’s the odds the SECOND group of Gith, the ones who WILL negotiate, will be met with anything but a fireball?

By Christopher Perkins
Level 19

Adventure Path! The last one, thank god. The party travels to hell to kill the demon prince you controlled the cagewrights. There’s really not much content here. Undead beholder attacks. You go to hell. Find a trading city (which is the most boring place on any plane, ever) and find a hag citadel who knows where the demon prince is. The hag is a little interesting. The demon prince stronghold is a prison. It’s just ten or eleven rooms stuffed with monsters to fight and various gimps, like tar slime on the floors, no teleport or stone shape on the walls, etc. For some inexplicable reason you get a deva to go along with you at the start. Worst. Reason.Ever. to give up your deva-hood and fall? Helping the party in a Chris Perkins adventure.

This issue published their “experts” take on the 30 best adventures. Here’s my thoughts on their choices, all from my (failing) memory …

30. Ghost Tower of Inverness
A nice tourny dungeon, but little to offer otherwise. Cook slams it as “cliche’d” Fuck you. I like the classics. They are classics for a reason.

29. The Assassin’s Knot
Don’t know notin bout this.

28. The Lost City
Don’t know notin bout this … EXCEPT, it’s got an adventurers “quick pack” reference sheet in it. I photocopy the FUCK out of it. It’s one of my standard handouts at tables, both home and when running at a con. “Pick a character and a backpack A, B, or C and let’s GO!”

27. The Sinister Secret of Slatmarsh
I shall admit to having fond memories of this Scooby Doo adventure. I might do back and review this one day to see if my memory, which tells me its terse and full of classic stuff, is correct.

26. City of Skulls
Don’t know notin bout this.

25. Dragons of Despair
All I remember liking the isometric map and being absolutely and totally confused about the beginning of this. In retrospect, I wonder if I didn’t understand you were supposed to use the pregens?

24. City of the Spider Queen
Don’t know notin bout this.

23. Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun
I recall this as being VERY minimally keyed. Two adventures, really, or three if you count the wilderness. I always felt like there was something special to this but I never discovered what it was.

22. The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
Monster Zoo, shoving as much shit together as possible. A guilty pleasure.

21. Dark Tower
I like Dark Tower. I like Thracia more.

20. Scourge of the Slave Lords
I remember this as super linear and you starting as slaves, escaping? Both of which could be ok for a con/tourny game … but not otherwise. Make the SuperAdventure changes that?

19. Against the Cult of the Reptile God
I LUV the village in this; it’s a lot of fun to run if the everyone is hyperbolic. I recall also the dungeon being nothing special, except for the wet dungeon atmosphere?

18. The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
Linear tourny dungeon is linear tourney dungeon? I’m not sure why these keep making the Best Of lists. They serve a very small niche.

17. Ruins of the Undermountain
Don’t know notin bout this.

16. Isle of Dread
Absurd amounts of content. You could set a large amount of your campaign here, if you were good enough to get past the repetitive parts.

15. Castle Amber
The teleporter/realms end of this never clicked with me. The entre things needs a bit of buffing up to set the mood correctly for encounters.

14. Dead Gods
Don’t know notin bout this.

13. Dwellers of the Forbidden City
Don’t know notin bout this.

12. Forge of Fury
Don’t know notin bout this. But I do have a hard time believing a 3e adventure is good. It was debut adventure also, wasn’t it?

11. Gates of Firestorm Peak.
Don’t know notin bout this.

10. Return to the Tomb of Horrors
Don’t know notin bout this.

9. White Plume Mountain
Look, I like tourney/con games. But the 30 best?

8. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil
I seem to recall owning this. I don’t seem to recall getting in to it?

7. Keep on the Borderlands
Terse, thy name is B2. All the best and worst from Gygax. Fond memories, and a decent DM can do things with it.

6. Desert of Desolation
Don’t know notin bout this.


4. Temple of Elemental Evil
Don’t know notin bout this.

3. Tomb of Horror
Fuck you and die. The world would be a better place if this had never been published. It has generated a culture of adversarial DM’ing.

2. Ravenloft
I just finished Curse of Strahd, and don’t recall much from the original.

1.GDQ/Queen of Spiders
Uh … No. I think GDQ is a mess, with two exceptions. 1) G1 is one of the finest modules ever written. 2) I love the wanderers tables in all of the D modules; Freaky Deaky shit right there!

Of those thirty the only one I’m sure of is G1. It can still hang with the best of today. I’d love to include Barrier Peaks, but I question if my love of it is just nostalgia. Dark Tower MIGHT be able to hang, as could Thracia. Both would be strong Also Rans if they didn’t make my Top 30 list.

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