The Witch of Tarriswoods

By John Fredricks
Sharp Mountain Games
Levels 3-7

Strange creatures threaten the woods just east of the peaceful town of Adela. Many fear that an evil witch has loosed a great curse upon the land. Who will venture forth and find the cause of these troubles? Who will confront the Witch of the Tarriswoods?

This is a small and mostly linear adventure with some old-fashioned charm to it. The town is threatened and, after a bit of investigatory pretext, a short two encounter wilderness section gives way to a small seven room dungeon. The adventure has some problems with communicating basic information, like how many bad guys in a room, but does a decent little job of presenting the encounters as real places, rather than forced set pieces. Look, I like weird shit that talks to you and this has that.

There is a REFRESHINGLY lack of lengthy background information and then the little town is launched into. Or, rather, the NPC’s in the little town. Four or five NPC’s are presented, each with a little paragraph and then a nice little bullet list of what they know about the current troubles. I could quibble a bit about the length of the “general” text for each NPC, but recognizing that the town is a social encounter, and providing data to the DM focused around that, their personalities and what they know, helps immensely in running an adventure. I don’t really give a shit how much stew at the inn costs, I care about the innkeepers data that he’s going to relate and how to run him. This adventure recognizes that. And it manages to ALMOST fit it all onto one page … glory be, it’s almost a DM’s reference sheet!

There’s just one problem. There’s no description of what’s going on, who the baddies are, etc. “The farmers and hunters aren’t able to work the fiends!” Ok. “Traders aren’t coming because of the attacks!” Ok. Uh … Who’s attacking? What’s attacking? Description? There’s absolutely no indication ANYWHERE in the adventure of what’s attacking the folk. What are they afraid? Who’s attacking? Who knows. The witch? Skeletons? Bandits? An atrophal?

It is this kind of … casual overlooking of information that’s so frustrating in this adventure. There’s a skeleton attack in the woods, in a nice flooded graveyard. There’s no indication of how many skeletons attack. There’s an attack, later on while in the dungeon, by ‘goppers’, but, again, there’s no indication of how many attack. This might also be the case with the Animated Vine attack, which at one point is referred to as vines, plural.

And then there’s the treasure. There is, essentially, none. Maybe, 150gp in statues, 150gp in bracelets, a couple of scrolls, and a magic marble. Oh, and a 300gp emerald! That’s ain’t gonna be enough XP to level. Not even close. I see this time and again in ‘OSR’ adventures: not enough treasure. I’m usually not very hardcore about this, but, come on, it’s gold for XP people, make a toekn effort to understand the rewards for the game you’re writing for! That said … the magic marble that sings while it is rolling is cool, as is a ring that turns you into a fish. Both non-standard and both excellent items for a party to find creative uses for.

I found the encounters rather charming. From the woodcutter running out of his cabin, to skeletons with rusty scimitars arising from a flooded graveyard, to mud monsters. There’s a couple of stone blocks that talk to each other, and you, and need to be avoided lest they warn the dungeon of the approach of a klingon warrior. Likewise, some clouds rain on the party while they go up a hill. This is a WONDERFUL encounter! Just a couple of clouds, that follow the party and rain on them. This is the perfect kind of free-form setup and I love this kind of stuff. ‘Figure out a way up the hill … made harder by the obstacle.’ The dungeon has a window! And a roof! And both can be exploited! Yeah! Hurray for thinking outside the box, and providing an environment that supports that kind of play.

The entire adventure is pretty short. It’s … incomplete? in places. It has a good, if a bit bland, summary for running the NPC’s, and some refreshing encounters in the dungeon. I’d say the designer is on a good path. A little trimming, a little more life in the writing, a little less loose in the details and you’d have a little adventure that’s not too terrible.

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Dungeon Magazine #84

The Harrowing
By Monte Cook
Level 15

While wandering in the forest you see some dead birds. Following them leads to a cave complex, and then a gate to the demonweb. This is quite a long adventure, taking up 44 of this issues 120 pages. It is, essentially, one long hack-fest. Enter room. Fight monster. Go to next room. The maps for the two areas (the caves and demonweb) have some interesting features, with ceiling and floor entrances and exits, but probably not enough to recommend them. Fight some drow. Fight some Slaad. Fight some drow who are fighting some slaad. A special prize for Monte: I believe this is the first example, in Dungeon anyway, of the shitty linear 3e adventure. Some people really like this one. You should not play D&D with those people.

By Peter R. Hopkins
Level 5

This may be the dictionary definition of Wall of Text. It goes on and on, paragraph after paragraph, with little to save the poor DM from misery. It features such classics as:

“2. Closets. These rooms are identical. Each has several hooks affixed to interior walls. Just inside the doorway sits a low shelf designed to hold boots and shoes. An everburning torch is mounted to the wall opposite the door. Both chambers are empty.”

Which is a fine description of a boring closet. It adds nothing and nor do many of the room descriptions. Fourteen rooms of a wizard’s tower. It provides stats for a dead body on the floor, that will not come back to life in any way during this boring snoozefest. There’s nothing in this wizard’s tower that feels remotely wizard like. 🙁

The Dying of the Light
By Chris Doyle
Level 10

Nice flavor to the complication/premise in this. Seven vampires live in a castle. You have from Sunup to Sundown to kill them all. At Sundown they awake and exact their revenge, for the parties raid, on the small town nearby. The parties hook arrives by a winged cat with an arrow in its ass … a nice addition. It’s got good general DM advice, a nice order of battle for how the castle reacts to incursions as well as nice overview sections to get oriented to things. A good map supports the adventure, giving the party non-linear opportunities. Good “classics” like the well having a trap door at the bottom, and so on. Also, winged owlbears and a giant undead dinosaur in the lake in front of the castle. This is a great example of an otherwise good adventure being ruined by form. The ideas are wonderful, but marred by the slavish devotion to rigor in description. Boring read-aloud unrelated to the interesting things in the room. Wordy DM text. Full creature stats and longish references to where in the DMG to find data … repeated. I like this adventure a lot, but it needs a good photocopy and highlight, or a strong rewrite to focus the DM on the important stuff. Fun.

Dungeon of the Fire Opal
By Jonathan Tweet
Level 10

Tweet is probably an ok DM. He’s not a good writer. This is the 3e example dungeon, which is also the 1e example dungeon. You know, the one with the scroll in the water skeleton and the platform secret door? Tweet is prolific with advice in this. Some advice is good. It’s general theme might be “don’t let the rules constrain you.” Being generous with clues, how to let the party find the choke point secret door, warning that a dangerous encounter is up ahead, and so on. He also gives this sort of advice in some of the rooms, and it’s here that things go a bit south; it gets tedious. It turns it into almost a n00b dungeon, for a DM that’s never played D&D before. In that respect it MIGHT be fine, but it also falls in the old trap of tedious text. Some of the rooms are QUITE long while most contain boring read-aloud and more boring DM text, especially of the “what this room used to be that now no longer has relation to the adventure” kind of description. Trivia not useful for the DM running the adventure. It’s also pretty boring. “Once this room was a well stocked larder …” Ok hooks and a pretext of rumors are appreciated, but in the end it’s just a boring dungeon with not much interesting going on.

By Peter Vinogradov
Level 7

More of a sandbox adventure. A valley is presented along with the various enemy commanders who make up the small companies present. They are at war with each other. There are a couple of (generic) villages in the valley, non-aligned. There are some werewolves running amok, freed by a rogue commander on one side. The party comes into this mess after being hired, outside the valley, but the two lords the troops report to. They have made peace and need someone to go tell their troops. Thus the adventure involves wandering the valley to find the various troops/commanders and convincing them the war is over. And dealing with the werewolf threat making things harder. It’s got some good high-level window dressing, like the daughter of one lord being married to another to seal the peace, and women talking about looking forward to their husbands return, and so on. After a read-through to get an overview then most of the adventure boils down to just the DM’s map and a couple of reference pages, kindly provided for the DM. The adventure could have used a few more … specifics? Ideas? about werewolf tactics/flavor and maybe even soldier flavor. That would have pushed this one over the top into Strong Recommend territory. Decent premise, good reference material, some bits of flavor. An ok adventure setup that will unfold as the party wills.

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The Stink of Golanda

By Steve Willett
Polyhedron Games
Levels 9-11

Golanda, the Kingdom of Hope, devoted to the good of its people and all people. It’s knights travel Ropa looking for service in just causes. Its priests roam the continent healing the sick and injured with no regard to race, faith or morality. But something smells in Eddiston and it’s the stink of corruption.

Oh, where to start … this is a linear adventure with light content, a pure railroad from start to end. There’s not really a plot shield here, there’s not enough content for that. There might be … five combats? There’s a couple of word pages, printed as a PDF that describe some convoluted backstory with named right out of the goofball unmemorable Forgotten Realms names. Go to the damned (as in ‘Hell-Damned’) town. Question someone. Have a combat. Question someone. Have a combat. Question someone. Have a combat. Meet a dude. Have a combat. Have the finale combat with an EHP and a demon. That’s it.

The entire thing is presented in a very conversational form. It’s as if you were sitting down, having a beer with someone, and they described their last game to you. It’s not quite incoherent, but it’s also not quite all there. It’s full of anecdotal events. That’s good! They ground the detail and provide something to hang your hat on. But it’s bad in the conversational form it’s presented in.

Out of nowhere there’s a table presented on what you see if you climb up to the city walls. It’s not bad: a demon scurrying across a street, a zombie bumping into a wall, a panicked dog, people cowering in a corner. This is decent content. Maybe a little generic, but it’s trying. There are plenty of example like this in the adventure (well, at least five anyway.) A daft old woman, zombies feeding on bodies, and so on. That’s the sort of decent, specific, content that many adventures don’t bother to describe. “12 zombies” or maybe “12 zombies attacking some villagers” is the usual fair. It could be even more specific, but what’s here IS decent … when it tries. This leads into the monsters actually DOING things. They argue. They feed, and so on. Again, somehow this sort of content has been lost in many modern adventures.

Make no mistake: this is terrible. It’s linear. It’s conversational. It is, at best, just a framework. Stat blocks take up fifty percent of a page. It’s not so much organized as it is a story narrative, told linearly. It reminds me of some of the poorer Adventurers League stuff, like The Seer, but organized in a far worse fashion. Devoid of much content. What there is is linear. There are brief bright sports with the encounter descriptions, but its hard for me to even call them encounter descriptions.

If you sat down, right now, and typed up, in Word, describing the last adventure you ran, in as if you were talking to your buddy, then you’d have this adventure.

Also: the intro notes there’s corruption present. Wellllll…. as in “overrun by demons?” Yes.

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Night of the Mad Kobold

By Dave Olson
Cut to the Chase Games
Level 1

The town of Cresthill enjoys a favorable location along the winding Graywand River. Trade is good, and the prominent gnomes of House Kelver run most of the businesses to the prosperity of the people. Now, however, a dangerous lunatic—a kobold from the nearby Talon Hills—has decided the gnomes of House Kelver need to be a taught a fiery lesson, and only a band of heroes can stop his plot.

There are about six different versions of this, each for a different system. I somehow managed to end up with the 5e version instead of the S&W version. This is a magic ren-faire adventure, in a gnome city with an alchemist kobold constructing bombs of flour and fire beetle. It’s mostly linear, with a brief free-range element in the middle, and a lot of contrivances to make up a plot. It’s also quite lengthy, and I’d say boring/uninspiring, for the amount of content.

Only about six of the twenty pages are the core content of the adventure. There’s quite a few pre-amble pages with instructions and backgrounds, and quite a few pages in the rear for NPC stats and personalities, maps, and so on. I’m not sure when this “lots of useless shit and not much adventure content” began, but I suspect it has something to do with the Pay Per Word scene. If I can provide the same content three different ways then I only have to be original once. For some definition of original that I may not agree with.

This verbosity-to-little-effect continues in the adventure proper. The key NPC’s get little offset boxes with their personalities and motivations noted. That’s great, in theory. It helps you find the content during the adventure. In practice, these sections are a couple of paragraphs long and drone on and on, using a maximal number of words to convey simple concepts. The guard captain is a family man, dedicated, and dislike his corrupt boss. The adventure takes two paragraphs to tell us those three things. The added words do nothing. In fact, they detract from the adventure because now the DM has to read the lengthy ass paragraphs when running the adventure instead of just scanning one sentence that says: family-man, dedicated, hates lazy corrupt boss. My language isn’t that good. It’s too fact based and doesn’t take advantage of the wealth the english dictionary provides. My language is also AT LEAST ten times better than the two paragraphs provided, because my language is usable to run the game.

There is a paragrapgh or so in the beginning that tells us all about kobolds. Their history in D&D, that these kobold sin this adventure are a different common brown type, and so on. It goes on and on, adding nothing useful to the adventure … until finally it says: And don’t forget, they ‘Yip!’” Once decent thing to help the DM bring the adventure to life. They Yip, in a paragraph of text. And I should say that that kind of direct game-enhancing content (such as, They Yip) is few and far between in this adventure. When there’s read it’s lengthy. The DM sections are lengthy. The NPC descriptions are lengthy. Seldom do they contain useful things and seldom still do they provide content like: They Yip.

There’s a … railroad? Or maybe it’s just very linear and full of contrivances to advance the plot. Hmmm. I think that means railroad. Anyway, the inciting event is an explosion. It’s assumed the characters help out, I guess out of the kindness of their hearts? If they ask around the milling crowd they get a description of someone seen entering several weeks ago. Giving this to the guard captain causes him to recognize the dude. You go find the dude in a bar, only to be attacked by some thug buddies. The dude conveniently falls unconscious so you can question him. You run around town, in the “free play” portion, finding the other bombs. It’s assumed that somewhere along the route you meet the mad kobold bomber and find out there’s a fifth bomb.

I think it’s fair to say that this is pretty typical adventure schlock.First you ask around, then run around, then finally fight the baddie. It’s boring, lame, and not very interesting, providing the barest of ties to try and connect things. You have to question the crowd. Twice. You have to then talk to the captain. You have to not kill the corrupt guard and not kill him. You have to accidentally run into the kobold while going from place to place in town. Why is the town gnomish? For no particular reason, and it doesn’t really feel like a gnome town at all. Why is the bad guy a kobold? For no particular reason. It’s this sense of the generic that comes from applying fantastic tags to the mundane that rubs me such the wrong way with these magical ren-faire settings.

There’s also this weird vibe around defusing the ‘bombs.’ The players are encouraged to be creative, by the text, and then it goes to great trouble to say what WON’T work. The bombs have a fire beetle in them. But if you kill the beetle then the reagent still goes off and the thing explode. This means that there ARE right answers. On the one hand limitations should be fine. On the other, making them arbitrary seems counterproductive to encouraging the party to think freely.

The amount of DM fiat to make the thing work right, the linearity, verbosity, and dullness of the general text make this a skip for me. The addition to gnomes and kobolds, for no particular reason, and the magical ren-faire alchemist stuff is just a turn off. I wish the adventure had not tried to explain things. It’s a magic bomb. It’s doesn’t need a flour/fire beetle explanation. Exploding skulls, yellow with flaming eyes that cackle manically as they get close to *BOOM* time? That I could accept without question.

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Dungeon Magazine #83

Deep Freeze
By Cameron Widen
Level 2

Joy. An asylum. I’ll put this in the pile of museum and archeology dig adventures I’ve collected. You’re hired to find some missing people who were to deliver supplies to an asylum. Turns out they never made it and weather forces you to stay overnight. Blah blah blah evil plot, enslaved people digging something out of the nearby mountain. It’s unclear why the party doesn’t just kill everyone they see and burn the place down right after “asylum” and “don’t know anything about it” and “please stay the night to keep out of the weather.” You know the deal. Super long read-alouds for mundane locations that add nothing, and longer DM text that is also mostly irrelevant to the adventure make this a pain to run. And since it’s a “mystery” then all of the mystery-breaking spells the characters have access to are gimped. Lazy. One of the “subtle clues” that the party is suppose to pick up on is that one of the beds have bed bugs … evidence that the good doctor has not been working alone for months. A) No one listened to the monologue. B) No one is going to pick up on that. C) They already stabbed the guy when he opened the door. Asylum & bad weather, remember? Nice weird art on page 26 by …. Marc Sasso? (Ha! Turns out he’s done Dio covers!) Otherwise this adventure has nothing interesting to offer.

By Tito Leati
Level 4

Find & explore a barrow to cure a cursed unicorn. This thing is full of LONG monologues and overly-descriptive DM text. It could easy be 75% shorter and lose nothing. I’m fond of barrows and this has a barrow, which means I’m fond of it. The barrow is decently done, feels barrow-like and has several interesting encounters … including one that seems out of Grimtooth that could be telegraphed better. The clues to find the barrow are decent, if long. There’s a tribe of evil humanoids that will talk to you and you can buy info/stuff from. Inexplicably, they attack the starting village while you’re on the way back from the barrow. I get the nice visual and the scene the designer is going for, but it seems very out of place and random. The spear you recover from the barrow is the cursed unicorn’s horn. You need to touch them together to cure the unicorn. The spear is powerful. If they had stopped there it would have been ok. “Keeping the spear is an evil act.” Welllllll…… yes, it is. Calling it an evil act comes with DM-fiat baggage, and all of the implied punishment … even though the adventure doesn’t actually say anything else. TELLING the party the spear is super powerful, describing the powers, and THEN giving them a choice would be delicious indeed.

London Calling
By Andy Collins

Indian diabolist attempts to summon a demon named Kali to earth. Maybe there are gypsies that steal children and penny pinching scots also? Scene based, and there are six. You can shove your scenes up your ass Andy Collins. Go play Vampire or wait eight more years for Fiasco.

Depths of Rage
By J.D. Walker
Level 3

Oh! Oh! I knew I recognized this issue! It’s got one of my favorite adventures in it! I love this one! At least, I REMEMBER it as being one of my favorites … sooo …. I’m probably reviewing this one through rose glasses.

A week ago the local DCC mob went all funnel up in the local goblin caves … and no one came out as first level … or came back at all. Full of old people, women, and children, the party is encouraged to take a shot … and lured by a magic sword the goblin leader has. This intro is pretty abstract in the adventure and could use just a bit more colour.

The caves are multi-level, with bridges, chasms, chimneys, multiple ledges, cramped corridors, short 5’ ceilings full of smoke from torches, and other cave features. And then suddenly some crazed goblins come screaming out the darkness! There’s some nonsense about how they are barbarians, but it’s TOTALLY that cave scene in 13th Warrior (and fuck you if you don’t like 13th warrior! It’s one of the two best D&D movies EVAR!) Primitive cannibal goblins, fetishes all over the place shoved in the cracks & crevices, war paint, howling goblins, tight and evocative setting. I fucking love this cave! And THEN the place changes. After killing the leader there’s an earthquake the caves change, with new challenges to overcome! There’s even some faction play thrown in, with the bitter shamen being discovered (maybe) early on, and he’s willing to sell out the chief, as well as an NPC ranger. The read-aloud, while not imaginative, is mercifully short. The DM text, while not terse by my standards, is not the usual completely over-prescriptive text usually found in Dungeon, except maybe in its description of the cave features, which goes on for two pages. The reaction section, to the parties intrusion, could also be beefed up a little. A gross shamen bowl full of blood that’s Bulls Strength? Sign me up! I WAS disappointed that the magic sword is only a +2 longsword. 🙁 LAME!

By Philip Athans
D&D Greyhawk 2000
Level 1

Post-industrial Greyhawk. IE: Shadowrun. Hired to retrieve a package from a bad part of town, the party finds something is wrong, the place being trashed and the street gang turned into zombies. They find a genetics lab in the basement. The DM text needs focus; important information is hidden after trivia. The various sections are nicely done though, with the “normal” house being a combination of horror and zombiepocalypse and the lab basement being a nice little sci-fi ruined genetics lab with a creature loose. Nice wandering monster table for the neighborhood also, with the encounters there offering some nice roleplay opportunities that FEEL like post-industrial/Shadowrun. Some of the initial read-aloud is quite overblown: “No one really wants to know what’s going on in Crossroads tonight, or any night ….” That’s some wannabe author shit right there. This is definitely highlighter bait though.

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Smuggler’s Run

By Dylan Held
Pick Up & Go Games
Crypts & Creatures
Levels 1-2

Welcome to Smugglers Run. An adventure designed for four to five players from levels one to two. Smuggler’s Run, once considered the primary pipeline for Corinthean contraband in the great City of Jor-Carmin, has been dormant for quite some time now. Officially claimed by Corinthea nearly 20 years ago when a toll was placed on the road; the farmhands and settlers along the old route have enjoyed peace and fair trade since, albeit heavily taxed. The humble villagers of Hamilton, who once would have to sneak their goods throughout the kingdom, now are simple farmers, traders, and craftsmen who are happy to play by the rules. Still, the dangers along Smuggler’s Run have not entirely vanished. The players in this adventure are hired to investigate a lost caravan. What seems a simple task that any farmhand could do turns into something much more intriguing. The path to becoming a hero starts somewhere. The mysteries of Smuggler’s Run may be more than just urban legends and are filled with more questions than answers, but will the players have the guile to investigate it’s shady past? If they make it through to the end, it will be up to them to decide.

This is a railroad of an adventure, but it’s also nicely done. The personality of the NPC’s involved really comes through and most of the situations seem quite a bit more relatable than most adventures. People act like people do. It also does a decent job of making it SEEM like actions have consequences, even though almost everything is pre programmed, right down to the last minute escape of the evil villain.

One of the many nice things about DCC is the funnel. Take a bunch of commoners and shove them through some danger. The outraged village mob is a trobe that very much appeals to me, as is their slaughter and their couple of standouts. This adventure uses that for a hook. Willy the hops farmer has a wagonload that has gone missing, right during the harvest and gets a group of fieldhands, etc to go look for it. Willy speaks in authentic western gibberish and both the first and a great example of the characterization given to the NPC’s. Almost every NPC has a personality that comes through in their (generally brief) read-alouds. They have strong personalities, from WIlly the yokel, to the highwaymen, to the bar room brawlers, to the barman to the barmaids. Not only do they have a memorable presence, but it’s done in a terse style AND their motivations are relatable. During the big finale battle one of the bar maids grabs anything valuable and tries to flee. Nice! The NPC’s are also all summarized on a single page at the end of the adventure, something I appreciate as a DM. There’s not an overwhelming amount, but it still keeps you from having to jot down notes.

The adventure also does a decent job with callbacks. Bandits met once are met again, and remember the party and react. As does WIlly. As does an NPC hireling. As do the bar maids. As does the bartender. NPC’s show up more than once and by doing so they give a sense of connectedness to the locations. Not just random places with random people but concrete locations with real people in them. This is all VERY nice

On the downside, this is a completely linear adventure. Go do X, then Y, then Z. The text single column, in a large font, and is full of “if the party does A then B” kinds of very specific DM advice. This all leads to a wall of text kind of thing when encounters run into each other. More than any other adventure I’ve seen recently, this one has problems. It’s like line breaks and section breaks have not been invented. It’s more than wall of text, it’s combined with this lack of … clearly delineated sections? That makes this a hard one to find things in and follow. It IS pretty simple, all in all, but still …

It also engages in two activities twice that I take exception to. The first is the wagon driver the party rescue. Regardless of the parties healing magic, potions they carry, or anything else they do, he collapses. I believe the text goes something like “regardless of if they are successful or not …” I get it. You want the party to rescue the dude. But there’s no reason. The dud being alive or dead does nothing to add to the adventure. But by FORCING the dude to be not responsive to the party you take away the player’s agency. Why heal someone, ever, if DM fiat is always at issue? The guy just should have been dead. Period. (If he talks to the party then might find out a wolf attacked him, which is evidently hidden information. I’m not sure why, since knowing its a wolf doesn’t really do anything one way or another.)

Secondly, the barkeep double crosses the party AND he’s given a plot shield escape. Bad form old chap. He’s the local bad guy representative, hance the doublecross, but, still, making the adventure/arc less transparently good vs. evil and more “Choose Your Own Adventure” would have been nicer to see. And giving the dude a plot shield, that he only uses when at 0 or less than 0, is SUPER lame. Fuck you. You’re the designer. Find a way to make your villain “cool” without taking complete control away from the players. That’s your job. Or, and here’s some free advice: Don’t. Let’em fucking kill the dude. You know, like they EARNED.

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The Wizard’s Tomb

wtBy Vincent Howard
Second Thought Games
Levels 7-9

The players have come into possession of a magical circlet. Its powers are tied to a long-dead Wizard, who calls to the possessor of the circlet from Beyond. A search for the Wizard’s hidden resting place is in order! Will the party sever the circlet’s link, or cement it? The Wizard’s Tomb is a stand-alone adventure for 4-6 players of 7th-9th level. A detailed history of the Wizard, the magic circlet, his tomb, as well as full descriptions for 20 traps and the guardian who maintains them is included.

This is Yet Another Tomb of Horrors Knock-off. Wizard’s tomb. Full of traps. Lengthy read-aloud. Long room descriptions. It’s got a little bit of nice up-front, but that’s all. Do you want another Tomb of Horrors? To go with the 6,000 that already exist? Great. This is one. Enjoy.

The room keys start on page seven, so there’s a lengthy preamble. Most of it is interesting and unneeded backstory. There is a nice little half a page section on sage/research results. I like this kind of thing, for a prepared group it makes a lot of sense to find out all you can. There’s another column or so on an artifact, presumed to already be in the parties possession, which is the hook for the adventure. It had an evil presence and now you feel compelled to go to a place, the tomb.

The map is pretty simple and linear and FULL of hallway traps. In fact, there are twenty different types of hallway presented over two pages. I am NOT the biggest fan of hallway traps. As soon as a hallway trap triggers the game slows to a grind. As soon as you spring a door trap then the game grinds to a halt. I’ll accept the Indian Jones Idol trap, IE, a trick that everyone recognizes, but most traps suck. The best way I’ve found is to give hints in your descriptions, like dead bodies, charred walls, and so on, and let the players take it from there. Random traps in random hallways do nothing. There are seventeen hallway traps in this adventure, in addition to a few other types.

The read aloud is LONG. It has to be in these torture-porn things in order to describe the trapped/puzzle room fully to the party. But NO ONE listens to long read-aloud. It’s boring. The DM room descriptions then round out the entire keyed room to about a full column.

All for abstracted treasure. “The evil wizard’s treasure, as determined by the GM …” ug! So, a mummy a wizard, and a bunch of traps.

There’s just almost nothing to this adventure.

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The Seer

By Ron Lundeen
Level 4

The time has come to venture beyond the village of Oras?nou and explore the realm of Barovia. However, in your travels, you happen across an unusual tribe of people–distrusted denizens of the Demiplane of Dread. Do the Vistani truly possess the ability to see the future, or is it simple parlor tricks and deceit? Part Five of Misty Fortunes and Absent Hearts.

Forced bear combat
What wolves combat?!?!
Forced undead combat
“The dark powers protect her” adv save

Uh … derp? I don’t get this one AT ALL. It randomly places you in a forest in order to encounter some Vistani. You are then led through three forced combats and two roleplaying encounters. End. I just don’t get it at all. It doesn’t look like it’s connected in any way to anything else going on and is just dropped in the laps of the party. It’s as if someone said “We need a unconnected adventure!” and someone else replied “Well, how about they meet some vistini while wandering in the forest?” and then it went forward.

The idea is that you meet some friendly vistini, they ask you to look into a bridal matter with another family of vistini. That group tells you that the bride ran off with an outcast. You “track her down” (which in this context means just having a forced combat) and then find out she’s a vampire spawn and kill her. Done! There’s just nothing to this adventure. It literally starts with the group wandering through the woods and getting attacked by bears. Then, Vistini group A, Vinstini group B, undead attack, Finale. There’s no real game here, just rolling some combat dice. I guess the bride/marriage/outcast thing could count as depth development … if we ever see any of these people again in another adventure.

And it’s weirdly incomplete. There are references to wolves in the adventure, including stat blocks in the back … but there are no wolves in the adventure at all. SImilarly, there are references to an owlbear in the Encounter chart as well as the back of book stat block … but no owlbear either. I don’t get this AT ALL.

I’m not sure what’s going on. It’s like someone said “ok, three fights and a little roleplay.” This adventure is not even trying. This fucking review is short because there’s nothing to review! I think I count 5.5 pages of content? And one of the fights is supposed to be removed if you’ve less than 45 minutes remaining? I guess … yeah? I mean, it was just a railroaded forced combat after all, but …less content?!

Look, I like a terse style, but fuck man, there’s VERY little content here. Two vistini families, or different personalities … is that supposed to be the adventure?

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Dungeon Magazine #82

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.
The tribulation^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H 3e-era has begun.

Evil Unearthed
By Ed Stark
Level 1

Oh, to yearn for the days of 2E adventures … A letter from a friend asking for help summons the party to a village where the friend can no longer be found. People are disappearing. Eventually a tunnel entrance is found at an old castle and a short ten room linear dungeon follows. Sixteen pages to do all of this is a long. The hook is hackneyed but handled well with the advice provided. The entire adventure is going to have to be a bit of a railroad; the ties are too tenuous and the clues too hidden, IMO, unless the DM really telegraphs where the party should go next with some REALLY obvious clues. Full page NPC stat blocks and descriptions and using 20 sentences where one sentence would do. It’s a pretty basic adventure. The highlight would be the rumors provided by the escaped travellers that appear on the wandering monster table for the woods. A little too fact based, but they still manage to convey a bit of the person underneath, of a conversation rather than a raw fact. The investigation could be a slow burn and a decent build up if more towny information were provided and A LOT less detail for each. The set up in this is really wasted on the dungeon underneath.

Playing With Fire
By Jeff Grubb
Level 2

A found key leads to a wilderness inn which leads to an old sealed lair of a bandit king. The key lets you into a basic/simple twelve room dungeon where you face some grimlocks maybe a fire elemental, and a few other foes. Only ten pages tells you that Grubb stays focused. The inn is only briefly described, the read-aloud doesn’t drone on and, while not always interesting, is at least terse and not terrible. I’m fond of the two interesting parts of this adventure. First, there’s a shield in the inn that’s quite interesting, displayed upon a wall. The owner wants too much money for it. It has a special power, sending creatures from the plane of fire back there when they touch it. That’s quite a nice effect and the art showing the shield is nice. Second, while you are exploring the lair a group of Azers, trapped inside, (probably) sneak out. They go to the inn, burn it down to get to the shield, and then use it to get back home again. This is a nice “actions have consequences” thing without it being too punitive. The inn keeper lambasting the characters is just icing on the cake. Of course, if the party manage to get the shield before going in (paying 2000gp, of killing/threatening the innkeep) then the azers attack them instead. The wanderers are lame, the hook (you found a key!) is just found-treasure-mappy-and-investigate pretext. Nice “fire-lord/bandit-king” theming on some plate armor make it a treasure worth keeping. Not a terrible adventure, but not really an outstanding dungeon either. With a little work on the grimlocks in the lair then it could be an ok diversion.

Dark Times in Sherwood
By Ian Malcomson
Level 3

This is so fucking weird. It’s a full on norman england Sherwood forest adventure, with some of the minor and none of the major characters showing up. It’s all wild boars and NPC men and then turns the corner with a necromancer baron and undead and, of course, the spellcasters in the party. I can’t figure out why something so specific showed up in Dungeon.

Bandits and asshat norman soldiers are tormenting the people of Sherwood. Investigating finds they are one and the same, with the bandits impersonating soldiers to discredit the sheriff. All under the control of an evil Baron who wants the sheriff’s job. The encounter locations are quite terse, generally, and the investigative elements point STRAIGHT at the bandit camp, over and over again. This is the ONLY way to run an investigation: provide an overwhelming number of clues … and this adventure does that. In contrast the pre-programmed events are lengthy and verbose compared to the encounter locations, with lots of long-ish read-aloud full of “Forsooths’ and “tis’s’” . The bandits all get personalities and unique stats, which seems weird since they are just gonna get killed. Everything takes a 180 when the bandits lead the investigation to the arons castle. After breaking in the dungeoncrawl with the undead and necromancer starts. It’s more like traditional D&D and less like “EVil cultist”, which again makes it seem out of place when compared to the rest of the adventure. Have fun fighting those 30 norman soldiers in the castle … and then a necromancer with undead? But he doesn’t feel like a norman necromancer, he/it feels like a “normal” D&D generic evil MU with undead. I don’t know. Weird. And the submission guidelines for adventures, in this issue, specifically calls out making them generic enough for everyone to use … unless TSR/WOTC is flogging a product launch?

Full named npcs bandits

Eye for an Eye
By Patrick W. Ross
Level 3

Oh Dungeon, what a tool you are! You hide behind your words and your slavery to form is used well to hide the jewels underneath.

While walking down the road you see a beheading. This leads to a friendly wolf, which leads to a maniacal commoner planning on destroying an entire town. And then, maybe, a follow-up dungeon crawl! I’m not sure why, exactly, but there’s something appealing to me about this one, even though it’s too wordy and has a read-aloud villain monologue at the start of the final battle. I think maybe it’s the idea that Bob the commoner hates everyone and goes off by himself to build a way to destroy the town … and in the end he’s just a commoner, working his evil in quiet. It’s got a decent bit of overland, a nice little swamp, a cool little evil-INTJ reed hut set up, complete with floodgates and counterweights for him to use his nukes in the earth’s core …err. I mean, open the gates to flood a town. The first wandering monster encounter chart has some nice bits in it, and the forest encounters, before the main swamp section, have some charming little things going on. The little bit of dungeon, AFTER the climax, most likely, is a nice little bit also, the receding swamp revealing it’s secrets and so on. It’s hard to recommend, based on the length of the encounter text and wading through it to find what you need, but it undoubtedly has some decentness to it at its core. This is a photocopy and highlighter candidate for sure.

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The Goblin Market

By Dave Tackett
Quasar Dragon Games
Levels 10-12

A wave of pain and death sweeps over the town of Sligo during a festive faire and
market, causing fear and panic. As the characters investigate this horror, they find that is just part of an ongoing, multifaceted plot to drive away all humans and their allies. With giants, demons, hags, undead, and more lined up against them, the characters will have their work cut out for them.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm in the OSR community. That’s not always matched by focus and sometimes a vision doesn’t get translated on to paper well. Our 10-12th level characters experience the impact of an evil energy wave and, presumably, set out to find the cause out of the goodness of their cold cold murderhobo hearts. There are several smaller encounters that lead up to the big bad, and programmed ending. The adventure has A LOT of text, which is almost uniformly unfocused, meandering and verbose. It also has a couple of nice encounters and generally handles the monsters more as NPC’s, which is very nice to see. The writing needs to be more focused and there needs to be more ADVENTURE and less mundane.

The adventure is verbose, and more than that it’s verbose in describing the mundane. Lengthy descriptions of the mundane, lengthy read-aloud that add little to no value, lengthy descriptions of actions taken by NPC’s and monsters. None of this is interesting. None of this adds anything of real value. Here’s a read-aloud that, at least, is short: “Bare stairs lead downward. On one wall is a tapestry showing a traditional brewery.“ This is the soul of tercity compared to several f the other read-alouds, and the read-aloud is then augmented by lengthy DM paragraphs. Needed information gets lost in the text. The read-aloud assumes. That you have torches. That you did X. That you woke the orcs when you came in. Not good. And a textbook reason why read-aloud is generally bad, especially in higher level adventures. This lengthy text, the filler information, is the primary reason that the adventure is 62 pages long. Well, the last 22 or so pages are just appendices for magic and monsters and maps, but, still, seven or so mini-dungeons in 40 pages is not a tight adventure. And it long for no reason. One underground area is little more than a single long hallway with jail cells off to each side, packed in. Skeletons in one, wraiths in another, more skeletons, vrocks, etc. Original it is not.

It does do several things right. The rumor table is exactly the sort I like to see to see in adventures. It’s specific. It’s bits of overheard conversation. “There’s no invisible pig, Ealga. It’s a friendly joke played on outsiders and children.” or “I swear I seen it, a giant cockroach the size of my daughters pony! Up fast the monk house!” These add color, they are specific, they aren’t’ just boring fact communication. It’s that idiosyncratic nature, the specificity, that makes an adventure worth running for the DM as a play aid.

Likewise it does a great job in the way it treats the monsters. No fighting to the death here, mostly. You can bribe monsters, they will plead, even the bosses! In particularly there’s a nice lich, one of the bigger bads in the plot, who doesn’t really give a shit to die. That’s quite nice, as is the devil you can rescue you will then pledge to serve you .. and follow through! OMG! A monster that doesn’t backstab you!

Every once in awhile there’s a small nugget of a nice scene. The inciting event is the evil wave of energy that kills the old and infirm and turns them into zombies … including babies and toddlers. That’s a nice little bit, as are a couple of the flowing-red-eyes zombies.

Mostly though, this feel unnaturally long. And weirdly non-OSR. Lot’s of low-level undead. MAYBE a little light on the treasure front, and most of it is book magic items. There’s none of those “conversion mistakes” like long rests and DC checks that would give this away as a conversion. It’s more like … mundane?

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