Dungeon Magazine #35

Seeing the pro’s names ad Dungeon authors reminds me of the strippers who show up at spring break wet t-shirt contests.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming
James Jacobs
Levels 8-10

Adventures like this one are part of that great soul-sucking morass that drags down the hobby. The party is hired to go through a gate to a fortress on the shadow plane and bring back a staff, in order to close the gate because shadow monsters are coming through it. Turn out the guy that hired them is a rakshasa and that will free him from his prison. The hackneyed plot (lure adventurers to free me while I impersonate someone!) isn’t so much the issue as the MASSIVE amount of text that accomplishes NOTHING. This runs 12-14 pages and has maybe three or four encounters. The inn the guy lives in is described completely and realistically in the most boring fashion possible. So s the two levels of the shadow fortress and the two or three encounters in it. Page after page of backstory. Page after page of boring descriptions of featureless wilderness. Page after page of trivial detail and explanation that does NOTHING to enhance play. Three is so little content that I think you could easily do this as a one-page dungeon. The rakshassa part is lame also. Need a bad guy to launch a plot that can’t be foiled by Detect Evil or ESP? Rakshasa! puke

The Year of Priest’s Defiance
Rick Swan & Allen Varney
Dark Sun
Levels 3-5

Uh … this is an adventure? The party stumbles on a ruin in the desert with fresh grass. Inside the small 6 room ruin they find a magic cistern of water. A friendly NPC shows up and wants to break up the cistern. An evil NPC group shows up. The cistern gets broken, the water elemental it contained gets free and kills the evil NPC party. End of adventure. This is an encounter, not an adventure. A side-trek at BEST and more likely a one-pager. But I guess it fulfills the requirement to publish a Dark Sun adventure in Dungeon. This is just devoid of anything. It’s more like watching a movie than doing something. Kill the friendly NPC? He survives so the showdown can take place. LAME. Why not just roll a d6? On a 1-5 you win, and 6 you roll again.

The Whale
Wolfgang Baur
Levels 1-2

This is a nice little short viking-themed encounter. A whale has washed up on the beach and a group of fishermen and a grow from the local lord are arguing for ownership rights. As the party approaches one of the land-men shoots an arrow at a women in the fishermans boat. Everyone stops talking and stares coldly at each other. That’s the perfect little moment to introduce the party to the scene, at the point things could change dramatically one way or another. The two groups have several personalities and some generic men, with the personalities having some good motivations and character to drive the action forward. The fishermen WILL starve if they don’t get the whale. The land-men DO have a real claim, but it is from an unreliable person. Baur understands that these sorts of scenes are driving by the NPC personalities and describes each in a paragraph or so and provides enough little background bits THAT ARE RELEVANT to drive the action forward. This is a great tangled mess where there are lots of possible answers. Nicely done.

Green Lady’s Sorrow
Joseph O’Neil
Levels 5-8

Middle class morality. That’s the problem with this adventure. A green dragon contacts the party in order to get five of her eggs rescued. They fell in a hole in a volcano and she needs you to go in and get them back. Inside is an assortment of vermin (who attack), magmen (who attack), grue (who attack) and an efretti (who eventually attacks.) Then you get out and the dragon attacks. Wouldn’t it be so much more interesting if you could get an ally from green dragon, or from the eftreeti? You are doing a major boon to both, and both are highly intelligent. But they attack. Lame. There’s a nice little maze on the map, some of the eggs are fakes, some are hard boiled already, and ALMOST everything in the adventure is intelligent. And attack. There’s an interesting set up or two with the eggs, traps and the like. Giving the true, magmen, efretti, orcs (who are all dead, having been sent in before you) some personality would have really made this adventure something. You could do it yourself, but then … why did you buy this magazine? There was a great opportunity for faction play, since they all hate each other anyway, and lots of opportunities to make some fire & lava themed rooms. Instead you get a lava pool or two and nothing else. The end result is Just Another Stinking Dungeon, but with a couple of fire creatures in it this time. :(

The Ghost of Mistmoor
Leonard Wilson
Levels 3-6

This is a haunted house adventure. An heir hires you to go in and help him get his ancestral treasure. There are a couple of rogues inside who are pretending to haunt the house … and some real ghosts as well. Some of the ghosts are neutral-ish (and not really ‘ghosts’ by D&D standards) and one is evil. You tool around the house getting ‘haunted’ and looking in to things and then probably meet the good-natured rogues. They, in turn, probably help you find the treasure vault, along with the goodish ghosts. Inside the vault you fight the evil ghosts. (which are really just shadows.) This is a pretty long adventure and most of the haunting things are done fairly well. There’s good advice present on how to run a spooky adventure, including he one dream sequence. I normally hate dream sequences, but this one is done ok and emphasizes the need to not do another one after it since they get old real quick. (True That.) This has a slow, investigatory quality to it. There are some vermin to kill prior to the showdown, but it’s otherwise an adventure which builds to several spooky moments. It does this better than most spooky adventures. It’s helped by the two rogues, scaring people off, who build things to a climax … and then they are probably caught, dispelling the tension. Until you find out they didn’t do everything … and then tension builds more, this time with your new helpers. Tension builds again until its dispelled by the finally meeting the real ghosts. Then there is the ominous battle of the treasure vault, that the party probably knows is coming. That sort of cycle works well. I would note that there MAY be a single problem. There are a decent number of bodies in the adventure from the olden-days. There is one high-level speak with dead spell. Completing the adventure relies on the spell being cast one ONE body in particular. I may have missed the thing that singles this body out. Anyway, good hauntings based on both room and time/event. The personalities of the ghosts and NPC’s are spread out a bit. Most detail is in one place but important other details are spread though the text, which makes running them a pain. All in all though, not a bad haunted house. Better than U1 anyway.

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X1 – The Unnamed Land

Perry Fehl
Purple Duck Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 4-5
The charismatic wizard convinced you all that in the new land you could get a fresh start, that money and high birth couldn’t dictate what you could do. You burned the ship, built a town, and, with a few hundred intrepid colonists began to make a new life! The purple vegetation, eyeless animals and furtive crystalline inhabitants presented challenges, to be sure- and then the wizard disappeared…

This is touted as a hex crawl but is really just a starting base with some strong wilderness theming and a couple of plots in the surrounding lands. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s pretty well done, but it’s not a hex crawl. You might be able tot use this to great effect to drop in to Red Tide, NOD, or some other hex crawl. What you get is a small hex crawl map, a little detail on the local village, a “freaky’ wandering table with a fine selection of new monsters, and maybe four hexes detailed out of a 12×15 grid of 10-mile wide hexes.

The background is delivered in about a column on the first page. A wizard recruited a bunch of people to come settle in a new land. They boarded a ship, may have passed through a portal, and been in the colony for two years. Basically, this is a Jamestown settlement in a freaky deaky land that resembles more War Against the Chtorr than it does vanilla D&D. (That’s a compliment.) The Standard monster list is pruned down to most giant vermin, like crabs, scorpions, fly’s and the like, ooze-like things (ooze, slime, cubes, mold), a fungus or two (shriekers) and some of the weirder and more insect-like monsters, like a rust monster or eyeless wyvern. This is supplemented by seven or eight new monsters, all with a very weird, aliens, or insect-like theming. Not insects, but evocative of insects. Not hive mind creature, but evocative of hive-mind creatures. Notably, there are two intelligent crystalline humanoid races: the greens and purples. Ubarat Fel, the wizard leading the colony, disappeared awhile back n an excursion he claimed would get rid of the predator attacks the colony was facing. These green and purple humanoids are roaming about. The land is crawling with weird monsters. The colony-village proper has a very Battlestar Gallactica-vibe from back when they had that colony; lot’s of corruption, pettiness, and the like. In short: a perfect place to getting kicked off!

EXCEPT for the hook. Note the adventure is for levels 4-5 and the adventure starts the party off in this weird-land-beyond-a-portal by having them standing beside a fountain. That’s it. No starting hook. I’m having trouble rationalizing a complaint about this. DO you need a hook for a starting base and a hex crawl? It’s location based; you shouldn’t need much of a hook. EXCEPT … you’re starting at levels 4-5 AND you’re starting in a weird “not vanilla D&D land.” How did you get there? Did you level up in the village? Were you an original colonist? Did you somehow in this mega-isolated place after the fact? If so A LOT of people are going to want to talk to you about getting back. This is a nice sized hole in the product.

The only village on the planet (is it a new planet? Who knows … and that’s great! Except for all intents and purposes you can think of it as “the only village you will ever see”) has no map, a strong rumor table, and a description of about a half-dozen places. Group dorms that the 400 or so colonists live in, to the wizards tower, to the food stores, communal workshop, and meeting hall. Each one of these has something going on, usually personality/NPC. These entries generally last no longer than a paragraph or two and do a great job of conveying a location with lots of possibilities. The asshat cleric, the ONLY cleric, is now pretty full of himself and if you want healing you have to attend his lectures and declare your faith in his god. And he’s kind of a doomsday preacher AND has a decent number of followers. Joy! The perfect gas for throwing PC fire at! A dick thief is in charge of the food stores, using “indentured servitude” as currency with thug guards and pretty girls working for him. He supports any mining-type venture, since he REALLY wants to get rich. One of the communal dorms has a different thug thief as a self-appointed Dorm Warden, with her room having the only separate room … and lock. She’s the sometimes rival of the other thief in town, the guy at the food stores. This kind of stuff goes on and on. The wizards tower is arcane locked and his three apprentices are camped outside in tents (none having knock) arguing about who is new archmage. (They’re all level 2.) EVERY place in the smallish colony is like this. It’s a fucking powder keg . It’s PERFECT. My only complaint is that a small list of the core NPC’s and goals would have been nice as a reference, maybe with a few more of the townsfolk thrown in also. That sort of “reference material” for running an adventure is something that is generally missing, especially from village/social places, and is sorely needed most of the time in actual play.

The hexes suck. You get a short 8-10 entry wandering monster table for each type of hex (wooded, plains, etc) and then 6 “special encounters” of two sentences each. There are three other special hexes detailed: the hex where the wizard met his fate, the lair of the green men and the air of the purple men. The purple men get a page or two but the other two get maybe a column. Which is fine; that’s more than enough to communicate the vibe of the hex and give me enough eta to run it. The issue is that this isn’t a hex crawl, not in my definition. It’s a kind of Wilderness Clearing action, where you go from hex to hex killing some wandering monsters. There’s just not enough “traditional” hex crawl encounters. The whole adventure is like a coiled spring, full of potential energy, but sitting out by itself alone in a field. Without the hex crawl encounters the potential energy is wasted. The set up is good. The new monsters are good. The village is good. But it’s all fluff without an opportunity to use it on something. That’s why, in my introduction, I stated that it would be better if you dropped this in to an existing hex crawl. It needs the target, the goal, to be released at. “Well, you could make your own.” Yes, I could. Then why am I buying this? The very purpose of a purchased product (or a free one, for that matter) is to support play. We’re paying, money, time or investment, for the very content that is missing. Not to mention the traditional problem of the product not advertising what it is very well.

There’s one more problem with this that is acknowledged by the designer: XP. There is no coin in this new land. It’s suggested that you give 4-5x more XP for creatures killed and 100 XP per hex cleared. This turns the focus to killing and clearing. BASIC doesn’t do a great job at kill-based gaming and 100xp hex means A LOT of hexes must be cleared before level 5 or 6 is hit. It’s probably impossible. This alien land would also be ripe for weird new magic items, things, but that’s not present at all either.

This thing is $4. If it were cheaper it would be an auto-buy. If it was more of a hex crawl it would be an auto-buy. You’re paying $4 for a little village, a general set up, and a couple of sub-plots. I’ve paid a lot more for a lot less. I’m hesitating recommending this, probably because I’m disappointed I didn’t get the hex crawl I was anticipating. Fuck it. It’s worth at least as much as a beer. Go buy it.

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Dungeon Magazine #34


This is a pretty crappy issue. The single exception drags the ret of the issue out of the gutter … but not THAT far out of the gutter.

Euphoria Horrors
Alan Grimes
Levels 1-2

This is an eight-room cave with a couple dozen drug-addled tasloi. It is also once of the worst examples of adventure design I’ve seen. A kid comes out of the forest crying. Questioning turns up his friend Drake is missing. The kid runs away. That’s it. That’s your hook. And this adventure is recommended as the Premier Adventure for your new campaign. Sigh If you follow the kid you get to his parents house. They are complete dicks and won’t talk to party or allow them to talk to the kid, other than shouting “Go Away!” This is your premier adventure. Why would anyone go on this? Because that’s what the DM is running that night? That’s the reality of the situation, but, fuck, you have to make the adventure at least A LITTLE appealing to the players and characters to go on. A vague statement and then denying the party anything else is not a great start. The group is then supposed to wander around the forest looking for clues. Except they will probably fail and/or give up. There’s a 10% chance per party member of finding a clue. What if they don’t find a clue? I guess they don’t get to go on the adventure then. Yeah! Let’s Oh, wait, I don’t think that’s the reaction you are supposed to have. I’ve never understood this shit. If you HAVE to find the clue to go on the adventure then why are you making people roll for it? “Roll 1d6. On a ‘1’ you get to play D&D tonight.” Ug! Further, the clues are bullshit! There are three. The first two provide NO insight on where to go. The third, it is stated repeatedly, should only be used if the party is getting frustrated and don’t know where to go. Seriously? YOU HAVENT PROVIDED ANY DATA ON WHERE TO GO UP TO THIS POINT!!!!!! Eventually you find a cave. The first encounter in the cave takes a page to describe. It’s a fucking pit blocking the entrance with a fire behind it. That’s should tell you a lot about this adventure. It’s not the only example either. Many of the encounters take a page to describe and subjects are not just beaten to death but to a pulp. When you find the fairy dragon (euphoria gas) captured by the tasloi it breathes on you up to a dozen times. Hey! Dick! Know how many XP you’re worth? I’ll answer that: more than the bullshit excuse for treasure this adventure provides! There’s almost none at all. The concept of drug-addeled humanoids is a good one, and there’s a great non-standard undead, but that’s not enough to save this adventure. Garbage.

David Howery
Levels 4-5

A two-page side-trek that describes the clearing in which a rogue elephant lairs. There’s nothing remarkable about this. Two pages to describe what should be a couple of sentences or a (short) paragraph. Was Dungeon that desperate for material?

Isle of the Abbey
Randy Maxwell
Levels 1-3

This is a small little locale adventure on an island. Some mariners (a guild, perhaps?) hire you to clear the place out so they can build a new lighthouse. After getting on to the island, through a horde of undead, there’s a little adventure in the cellar of a ruined abbey where you meet the remains of the evil clerics from the abbey. This adventure has a different vibe than most and it’s something I can get in to. The party is presented more as a group of mercenaries. A lot of hooks essentially imply as much: “you’re hired to …” but there’s also some implied morality in most. This one doesn’t really have that implied morality, although it’s still essentially a fight against evil. The mariners want to build a lighthouse and they need someone to check the isle out before they do so and get rid of any threats. There’s a small lighthouse nearby that can serve as a base of operations, and it has a tactical resource in an old fighter who tends it. He can offer advice to situations the party can’t overcome. That, alone, is unusual for Dungeon. Not the resource, but the way the adventure is presented. The island is presented more as a … location? Than a set of railroad encounters. The beach is full of undead that crawl out of the dunes, so just getting off the beach will be a puzzle. The ruined abbey has some (evil) survivors in it who, generally, want off the island. They are presented as having motivations of their own and you can talk to some of them. More could have been done with that, with some better faction play, but at least a nod is given to a couple of people who just want out and damn their evil god. Hell, I even liked the little backstory of the pirates and clerics being in league, the clerics always shorting the pirates, the pirates always grumbling, and then the pirates showing up one day to burn down the abbey … only to get mostly wiped out by the undead … leaving an opening for the mariners guild. The treasures here’re not stellar, and more could be done with the NPC personalities in the ruined abbey, like sticking them in specific locations or putting a little more faction work in to play, but it’s defiantly above average for Dungeon.

The “Lady Rose”
Steve Kurtz
Levels 8-11

Are there good nazi’s? What’s your position on orc babies? This adventure, either intentionally or unintentionally, asks those questions. A warship from a thus-far unknown empire shows up and raids a city, kidnapping all of the adolescent elves. Because their empire uses young elves as slaves. And keeps them drugged. And breed them. But they are not evil, the adventure says so. Seriously. “Slavery in the Dkdwfkd empire is not good or evil. It just is.” And their alignment isn’t evil, it’s almost all LN. It then paints the crew of the ship as just a set of sailor dudes. They hang out in bars, spend money lawfully, arm wrestle, gossip, all the things sailors do. Well, and slave adolescent elves. The depiction of a foreign power suddenly showing up and raiding a town, only to pull in to another and act lawfully, that’s an interesting depiction. Probably realistic. Depicting the crew as just a bunch of sailors, a bunch of working stiffs, and the offers who are just loyal military officers. All great. You get a couple of combats with a well organized military group painted in a realistic, and yet tactically fun, manner. And then you toss in the orc babies … the slavery. DM’s you throw that shit in are not good DM’s. They are dicks. The game is supposed to be fun not make you think about the meaning of life, hopelessness of existence, and put you in to existential crisis. The big battle at the end is supposed to be on the warship but it described in a boring way, with no thought as to how the crew react to an incursion. This is in marked contrast to the earlier ‘ambush’ encounter in which the tactics of a small subset of the crew, on land, are spelled out. The ship, in contrast, is boring, with no tactics and nothing very interesting to explore. This then is the most glaring mistake in the adventure, the abrupt turn away from the realism of the military response to Just Another Keyed Room format. Oh. And the adolescent elf slavery. Like I said, only a dick puts that shit in an adventure. The TSR standards were something like “evil must never be portrayed in a good light.” I guess this one slipped through because they were LN? I look forward to the next issues letters column to see if this comes up. Ultimately this is a sucky adventure because of the main encounter, the ship, is described as just a series of keyed entires instead of living, breathing place with a crew schedule, etc. The orc baby issue is what pushes from “the usual dreck” to “total piece of shit.”

On Wings of Darkness
Craig Barrett
Levels 4-8

Dungeon adventures tend to be wordy. This one is both wordy AND confusing, a rare talent. The party is hired by a manor lord to go kill a predator killing livestock. Uh … then the party is attacked at night by “Darkenbeasts” under the control of Vedthor. Then they go kill a small campsite of enemies in the pay of Vedthor. Then they go to an estate and kill some more people in the employ of Vedthor . Yeah, I know it’s a mess. That’s because it’s a mess! So look, what’s going on here is the designer made up a cool dude, Vedthor, and put him in an adventure in Dungeon Magazine. Vedthor, the CE human male wizard, keeps a +3 dagger in his boot and a knife in his left forearm sheath. Boner much Craig? Vedthor has some evil plot and its his Darkenbeasts that are causing trouble. The idea is, I guess, that the party is pissed at being attacked during the night ambush by Vedthor and takes the fight to Vedthor. You see all that name dropping I did of “Vedthor”? That’s NOTHING compared to the number of times he’s fucking mentioned in this adventure. “Why Bryce”, you ask, “how does the party know where Vedthor is?” Well, first, let me thank you for name dropping “Vedthor.” Second, there are a bunch of fucking owls in the adventure. Why are tere owls in the adventure? I have no idea. But there are a bunch of giant owls at the enemy campsite and one talking owl in a cage at the campsite. And the talking owl has a page long monologue that fills the party in on all the details. And then every encounter from then on is written from the owls point of view. If some DM tried this shit on me I’d eat the fucking owl. There’s a couple of nice things in this adventure, in spite of the confusing mess it is. First, at he campsite, there are some hill giants chasing around some giant owls, trying to club them, while the owls flutter about from area to area. I like these sorts of vignettes during an adventure encounter. It’s much nice to see some semblance of realism then it is to just have a boring description of “3 hill giants in the clearing.” It doesn’t have to be long but just an extra sentence or so can make all the difference. Second, the estate at the end, while written from the owls point of view and a total confusing mess, tries to be an open-ended location. More than a standard keyed encounter locale, it tries to tell you that there are some guard at a lookout on the hill, and these guys on a boat, and these people in the house and so on. It fails because of the owl POV shit and the TOTAL lack of a plan and/or tactics on the part of the enemy. Oh! Oh! I just remembered! At the end of the adventure there’s an entire list of consequences based on the PC’s actions. Guess What! Nothing you do matters! No matter what the party does the outcomes are the same! Yeah you! You wasted your time!

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The Monastery of Inexorable Truth


By David Pryzbyla
Purple Duck Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 3-4

It is said that the truth will set you free… but is that, itself, the truth? The monks of the Order of Veracity built an amazing monastery complex in the frozen mountains, using the heat of natural magma flows, in order to contemplate the truths of their stern god, Ket the Unbroken. When they were given a wondrous tome, the Codex of Inexorable Truth, they thought that all of the truths in the world would be theirs to behold… and it would be a lie to say that their bones rest easily because of it. But the truth can be a valuable thing, and your party of intrepid adventurers has been tasked with obtaining the truth borne in the pages of the Codex, and must journey to the dark halls of frost and fire- to learn the Truth.

This adventure was a pleasant, if a bit hackey, surprise. It takes please in an abandoned monestary and exists more as a locale to quest to than as a plot to uncover or an Evil bad Guy to defeat. There’s a nice little artifact that’s present in the dungeon that can serve as an excellent adventure hook. Basically, the monks god rewarded their devotion with a book that contained the Inexorable truth. Ask a question and get an answer. And then get a second answer … the consequences of the first. The monks couldn’t hand the truth and ended up killing each other, and then they got punished by their god. Their god who, because he’s kind of a dick, finds it interesting to watch how the puny humans react to The Truth. I found this a really excellent backstory and hook. Best of all it’s all presented in less than two pages. A brief little history and backstory, the details of the god and the book, hooks and all the rest. There are a couple of other bullshit hooks as well, the usual sort of lame “hired by someone” and “great evil blah blah blah” stuff. But the core hook: Book of all Knowledge, is a VERY good one. It motivates the PLAYERS, rather than the characters, and those hooks are always the very best ones. Want the keyword for the Sword of Kas? Guess which monastery you are going to!

The map has thirty or so encounters on it and is done by Dyson Logos. I’m not the rabid Logos fan that others are, and this map is a good example why. In spire of this being a monastery set amid a lava lake, it’s boring It is, essentially, just a loop with the two hallways running directly in to rooms and then meeting on the other side of the map. Oh, there’s a side room here and there, as well as smaller loop, but not in a meaningful way. This is, far too often, a problem with Logos maps. Logos generally has a good idea or two but the maps tend to peter out after that idea and become small uninteresting affairs. If you strung all of the good ideas together you might get something good. It seems like there’s just something that hasn’t clicked yet with Logos. There’s another problem with the map, but I suspect it’s not Logos. The various rooms each note the doors as open or closed, the lighting, and the temperature. This is a waste. These sorts of things should be noted on the maps. The door is locked. The door is unlocked. The room is lit. The room is dark. The room is lit by magma from the hallway. The room is very hot. All of this should be shown on the map instead of taking up valuable space in the text. I know, I know, it seems like I’m backseat designing, but, I think not. This is critical information and just as relevant as how many exits there are and how big the room is. It should be shown on the map. The map is a reference document. That information is reference data. Represent it on the page that shows us reference data! There are four wandering monsters, all new, and all just presented as normal monsters. Eh. Nice to see new stuff but nicer to see them doing something. A few extra details in the wanderers activities could have pushed things over the top.

The encounters here are generally quite good and presented in an interesting format. Let’s cover the format first. Each room starts with a small bit of read-aloud. A SMALL bit of read aloud. No more than two sentences. I’m not opposed to read aloud, jus the excessive read aloud present in most products. This one gets things close to right. Here’s an example from the first encounter:
Monastery Entrance. An archway carved from the mountain rock frames an open doorway. Blown snow forms drifts that extend a few feet into the corridor.
What follows is then a bolded section that describes what’s unusual. In the above example there is a small subheading that describes the archway, the door, a lever inside the door, and what’s in the snow drift. Note how all of that is alluded to in the read aloud text. If someone examines something that you JUST told them about then they get a little bit of extra data. When the adventure is at its best it is focusing VERY tightly on the interesting aspects of the room. It GENERALLY succeeds more than it fails. Sometimes it drifts off in to the irrelevant, describing things that don’t matter. Sometimes the read aloud doesn’t mention something critical in the room which should be obvious to a casual observer at first glance. “There’s s shit ton of ice spiders” or “there are several pillars and pedestals with glowing markings on them.” Then sometimes it drifts in to describing something like a bench which has no purpose. While inconsistent and the format is a little wordy and, as mentioned before, notes far too often things which should be noted on the map, which only contributes to the wordiness. This ends us causing the product to only contain about four or five encounters per page. The format here is interesting, but we’re not buying the product for an interesting format.

There are, however, more than a few things going on in each room and the data presented is generally in line with supporting party interaction with the environment. For example, those snowdrifts mentioned in the first encounter have the body of a dead adventurer in them. His short sword is coated in blood, his body rent with claws, and his face blistered from heat. Interesting! The party now has numerous clues to one of the new monsters in the adventure. Yeah! The dude also has a gem in his shoe, rewarding those players who taker the time to interact with their environment. Other rooms have other clues to other new monsters, or to other clues to other things in the dungeon. That’s EXCELLENT design. The overall impression though is that the rooms are on the Hack side of the line. There’s not going to be a lot of negotiation with the vermin or the undead, and thus the faction play is sorely lacking … a problem with most adventures that feature undead. I noted ‘interaction with the environment’, above, but I’d like to back off of that a bit. While there are a lot of clues to what’s going on, giving inquisitive players a leg up, the interactivity, proper, is lacking a bit. There’s not a lot of ‘weird’ going on, or things you can impact, other than hacking them. The connected nature of the rooms is strange. On the one hand you’ve got lots of clues as to what might be in the next room, but there’s just not a lot of interactivity beyond that. The clues here are excellent, some of the best I’ve ever seen, but the interactivity (beyond hacking) is lacking. I don’t know if I’m making myself clear.

I’ve mentioned previously the new monsters. There are five or so, and few other monsters outside of these new ones. I REALLY like new monsters. I like a party that is afraid of the creatures they meet. They don’t know the special attacks or defenses or anything else . The creatures here are interesting and reverent to the environment, and have some decent descriptions. “They exude a powerful odor of charred flesh.” … Cool! The treasure is less great. There are some interesting treasures, like a desk or so, but there is far too much that is generic. “3500gp in misc jewelry” “a jade idol”. A jade idol of what? Just two more words and that had idol could have been a really special treasure. Instead it’s just generic junk. The magic items are similar. One or two get a description, like a handle that returns and is decorated with gold and red. But others are just generic +1 mace and “potion of levitation.” One or two more words, a little extra work, and the standard book item garbage could have been turned in to something special. :(

Origins was a bust, with only 1 OSR adventure, so I bought a lot of Purple Duck stuff during their recent sale. I was dreading the reviews, but, now, I’m cautiously optimistic about them. Let’s hope the other LL and DCC adventures from them are as good as this. Not the greatest adventure , but a solid C+ or B- in my opinion, which means it better than the vast vast majority of stuff published.


Hey, did you make it this far? I’m having a party in a few weeks to celebrate the return of D&D. If you’re in/near Indy drop me a line and I’ll send you the invite. And if you’re not in Indy but have 4e books you want to get rid of then let me know. I’m gonna kill 4e with fire.

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Dungeon Magazine #33


Origins didn’t have shit in the way of adventures, so I bought a bunch on DriveThru this morning. New content soon!

Warning: the first adventure has a village of clueless morons. I LOVE villages of clueless morons, so the review may be biased. I also like sandbox things like sieges, from the second adventure, and fairy-tale like things, from the last adventure. Those reviews may be a bit more biased than usual.

That Island Charm
By MS Rooney, Patrick Carpenter, Greg Gliedman
Levels 7-12

This is an adventure on a deserted island full of castaways who need some help solving an ogre problem. The party ends up wrecked here and the other castaways, from pervious wrecks, attempt to convince the party to go take care of some ogres who are preventing their ship construction efforts. When the party goes to do that, they get charmed by a morkoth and his marid buddy. Oh my god, I love this adventure. The hook is complete BS. From the seedy tavern with the confused barkeep to the railroad to get the ship to crash to the isle, the beginning is BAD. So bad I wonder if it’s intentional. I LOVE the crazy barkeep and bar, only briefly described, even though its a total set up. The journey to the island is lame as it ends in a shipwreck, but, shit, whatever, it gets the party to the isle. Once there they meet a CRAZY band of castaways, whose rough village is plagued by nearby ogres. Their story holds us to no examination. Their ogre defense barrier is a falling down bamboo affair with a gate that takes a STR 15 to push down. Their water source literally springs from out of nowhere. One guys been on the island for years, living in the same hut, only the hut is less than a month old. More and more of hat sort of thing, with the castaways giving the stupidest answers known to man. It’s a complete telegraph that something else is going on AND I LOVE IT. Screaming THIS IS a SET UP at the players and then watching them walk in to it anyway is one of my greatest joys as a DM. There are a couple of potential allies on the island, from an ogre (!) to a rebel elf. Everything kind of centers on a cave with a spiral entrance … a morkoth lair. The marid is a little inexplicable addition. It’s used to do weird stuff and be an agent for the morkoth on the outside but it seems out of place. Something has to keep up appearances, so the designer stuck in a marid. The writing seems tighter than usual for a Dungeon Magazine adventure and it’s good to see something unusual like a morkoth show up. It’s all book treasure, and the adventure is on the short side, but I liked it. In fact, the Moonday Murder Hobos are just setting off to take a sea journey tonight. I might have an island offshore have some smoke coming from it … This is a stupid silly little adventure, and I inexplicably love it. Wasn’t there some crappy bar from a Forgotten Realms document, the Swill & Swipe, or something like that? It served bar rag drinks or something like that. That bar would be perfect. Obviously, I’m excited, and that rarely happens.

The Siege of Kratys Frehold
Ted James, Thomas Zuvich
Levels 1-4

This is a sandbox siege, with the PC’s defending a fort. It really quite different than the usual affair in Dungeon. The party ends up in a fort/manor and a large group of orcs attack and lay siege to it. The party gets to control all of the locals, from lord to peasant, and has access top all of the general supplies in the fort in order to fight off the attackers. There’s a timeline presented, some rough orc battle plans, and general plans of the fort and the surrounding lands. There are some battle system rules attached, but they are entirely optional. I like these sorts of “heres a location and heres a goal. Make it happen” kinds of adventures. The players are given a very free hand, controlling all of the NPC’s. Success probably depends on making raids out of the fort and destroying the orcs siege equipment, etc. The general overview map could be more useful for play if it had more features. It is basically a fort on a hill surrounded by trees. Given the (probable) frequency of sally raids a more detailed environment would have been better. Every party should have an opportunity for one of these once in their careers and this one may be nearly as good as the Dogs of War/I series from C&C. A little prep work in maps, character stat cards, etc, could turn this in a VERY memorable game for your party.

Dark Days in Welldale
J Mark Bickering
Levels 3-5

A miserable adventure in an annoying cutesy halfling village with no reward to speak of. An invisible dragon has been granting them wishes while pretending to be a well spirit. While he’s away some men locks move in to the well and there are disappearances. All of the halflings are incompetent, grossly cute, and as far as I can tell there is absolutely no reason for a party to do anything other than burn the place down. No, that’s too harsh. Parts of this are interesting. The local lore about the well spirit liking apple pies, and the menlock lair is full of belly-crawling tunnels that force you to fight with a dagger … while they circle around behind you. That makes the lair sounds more awesome than it is. I really do enjoy the non-standard environment of the dirt-floor tunnel belly crawl, but it’s really just a side-view map showing some tunnels with one big dug out area. It’ unclear why I like the stupid villages in the first adventure and loathe the stupid/cute ones in this one. In any event, this could make a nice one-shot with a deceptively hard finish to it. Kick around the village for a bit, putting up with the cute halflings, experience a raid at night and/or search the well, then belly-crawl to the enemy. 13 pages is WAYYYY too much for the adventure though. That, however, seems to be a fact of life if you want to use one of these older adventures.

David Howrey
Levels 1-2

This must be a side-trek, since it’s only four pages long. A unicorn has been poisoned and some goblins are hunting it. The wilderness/glade has five encounters, the first being the hook combat and the last being the poisoned unicorn. There’s a camped out gnoll and a couple of flying kobolds. That’s it. It’s clearly a Legend rip, with goblins, unicorns, horns, and poisoned arrows. There’s just not enough to this. Nothing interesting happens in it AT ALL. Even the gnoll just attacks on sight.

Mad Gyoji
Colin Sullivan
Levels 7-10

The Dungeon Magazine Oriental Adventures have been some of the strongest in the magazine, but this is one of the weaker ones. An evil spirit is killing the village elders, one after another. You have one day before the current one dies to go to an island where a villager was banished years ago and get the curse removed. There are a couple of OA style encounters in the wilderness and then on to the small island, home to many small shrines and a temple with a major treasure in it. This is a major adventure, clocking in at about 20 pages. It’s strongest when playing to the OA/fairy tale vibe and weakest when being a traditional D&D adventure. For example, on the wilderness trail you see a hanged man and his spirit next to the body. If you let him possess you and complete his task (which is quite minor) the spirit is put to rest. Great! Nicely done with a sweet fairy tale vibe in the flavor text used! But then there’s a tasloi village. That takes up a couple of encounters and several pages and feels more like a traditional hack & slash D&D adventure than an OA adventure. It’s out of place. The lengthy description of the village implies a hack fest, but the best option Is probably just to run/sneak through it. That’s followed by a straight-up fight with an Oni on a bridge (from the cover) but that also feels out of place. Most OA Dungeon adventures have treated the creatures like real NPCs, with goals and motivations of their own. In fact, the OA adventures have tended to do that FAR more often and FAR better than the ‘regular’ adventures. But, again, in this encounter the Oni is just there to be killed. The shrine/temple island has a couple of good OA encounters, from a collapsing cliffside to an area infested with leeches and some shrines to be cleaned up. But those are mixed in with a couple of straight-up fights that detract from the … ethereal? Nature of the isle could have otherwise had. The main temple extends this clash. While a couple of the encounters COULD be good, with an opportunity for interaction and choices by the PC’s, instead they all end with “and it attacks.” This gives the party no options beyond hacking things, which may be the most boring option in D&D. Given the emphasis on honor and so on in OA I find the lack of non-violent options strange and out of place. I guess there’s a puzzle or two on the island, or an opportunity for smart play here and there, but they are far outnumbered by the raw combats. In the end I found this to not have a strong OA feel, in spite of the trappings.

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1A – The Inheritance

By Bob Pennington
Mischief, Inc.
Introductory to Novice levels

Family friend, and great adventurer Gildas Trahern is dead. The journey to Caer Brennau to attend his funeral was pleasant enough and uneventful, but who could have predicted what would happen next? Raiding goblins, and thieving kobolds are just the beginning, but when the dragon Galversharn attacks it becomes a race against time to return what was stolen before Caer Brennau is razed to its foundations and every last man, woman and child killed in draconic wrath! To save Caer Brennau will take courage, fortitude and wisdom. The path will be long and fraught with much peril. Can a party of strangers work together long enough to complete the tasks before them? Is any inheritance worth all this?

Someone has stolen a dragons egg. You are charged with going to get it back. You talk to some townsfolk and assault two (boring/standard) humanoid lairs. You are also led around by the nose and forced to go from place to place and shoe-horned in to an adventure that has far more in common with the 3e/4e era than it does with more classic/open-ended product. This is a frustrating thing to review. It’s an OSR product. I know because there’s a label right there on the front cover that says “OSR.” It does some things right, like putting in some magic items with a few unique abilities. It MIGHT even have a non-standard monster or two, depending on if you call a kobold sorcerer nonstandard. It also railroads you, leads you around by the nose, includes copies boxed text and has lots of generic magic items, linear dungeon design, boring rooms, NOT ENOUGH TREASURE and a vibe and vocabulary that is much more aligned to the 3e/4e era. I’m not gonna say it’s a conversion, but it FEELS like one. This ISN’T a rip-off adventure, like many of the conversion products are. The designer clearly put some effort in to it. It just doesn’t click and hit the notes an OSR adventure should. Yeah, that’s right, I’m the arbiter of what makes an OSR adventure OSR. Because it’s my review. In the end this is Just Another Adventure, with nothing special to recommend it.

I want to start here with the hook and plot. The entire thing is CRAMMED down the players throat and then they are led about from A to B to C. You’re in a manor home getting your inheritance from a dead wizard when The Authorities walk in and try and arrest you. It’s done in a a very condescending (to the players) “Respect my Authoritay!” kind of manner which, I believe, every player on the face of the planet LOATHES. You are not put in the position of kissing ass. That’s the first act your character takes, kissing ass and licking boots. You HAVE to do it, or you are derailing the railroad. So, as player, do you accept this? You know that’s the way the adventure is but fuck that asshole for making you boot lick as your first act with your character. My players would NOT put up with it. If I were playing I’d choose stabbing the Authority in the throat. It’s the OSR, I’m going to die about 4 times anyway before someone makes it to third level, so what does my nameless/soulless dude have to loose? Not kissing ass? I’ll take it. There’s two NPC’s, one on each side, so there’s a lot of DM going back and forth going on with the characters ALMOST on the sidelines, their fate in the DM’s hands as he rolls d20’s for both sides. Not. Cool. And then there’s the whole “they try to take you prisoner and heal you if you resist” nonsense, since all this crap is just the fucking hook for the adventure and has almost no impact on things. This drives me CRAZY. Your actions have almost no repercussions. Kill the dude, don’t kill the dude, resist, be nice, whatever. You end up in front of the local lord where there is more groveling and boot licking expected. He either puts you in the dungeon or gives you a place to sleep. In either case a dragon attacks in the morning at which time you are released (from jail, the barracks, the dungeon) and forced to confront it. NOTHING you did had ANY impact on the events. That don’t sound like what I know the OSR play style to be. This goes on, with the party being led from place to place to follow the plot to the fort, town, lair 1, lair 2. Contrast this to Scourge of the Demon Wolf. In that adventure the locations were presented as separate and distinct places with relationships to each other, where you could learn about the other locations and rumors and so on. You might think this trivial but I think the distinction is critical. Does this place exist outside the players interactions with it (Demon Wolf) or is it just sitting around waiting for the rumor in site #2 so you can travel to site #3? Major portions of this play out like a movie instead of a Realm of Possibilities. This is perhaps best exemplified by the dragon attack that the players are forced out to deal with (after being treated like shit by everyone.) The dragon gets an entire page write up, but at AC –6 and 112 HP there is no possibility for anything to happen here. It’s just a movie where the dragon roars and prances about and the players force their characters to do what’s expected of them to move the adventure along.

Moving on to the actual encounters, things seem … generic? It’s a guardroom. It’s got some dudes in it. It’s a barracks. It’s got some dudes in it. It’s a storeroom. It’s got some storeroom stuff in it. There’s just not much to the encounters. A couple of the rooms have traps, but this feels much more like a tactical exercise than exploring a real place. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, especially if the adventure is tactical. But OSR characters tend to be weak and not suited for tactical play at level 1. In most version you are barely more competent than goblins & kobolds, which make up the bulk of the enemies in this adventure. Further, they have some kick ass AC’s and HP’s. But de-emphasizing the exploration element and emphasizing the tactical, in a low-level adventure, you are forcing the group in to a no-win situation. They don’t have the opportunity for those whacky Adventuring Party Plans because everything is just one combat after another. The rooms are fully described … to no effect. Instead of the descriptions focusing on what the party can do and interact with, ACTIONS, then instead focus on trivia. “This is made possible by small bearings in the base” or “the runes on the walls tell of the three people who were buried here, now looted and gone, and have no bearing on the adventure.” Then what’s the point in telling me about it? Because it’s “Realistic?” Seriously? My elf is farting fireballs and you’re focusing on realism? Rooms & encounters need to focus on what’s important to the PLAY and ACTION. Boiling kettles to use in combat. Weird pools to do stuff with and the like. The goal of the designer is to provide that sort of thing to the DM to assist them in running a GREAT game for the players. If all you’re describing is the mundane and normal and you can replace the goblins for bandits, then what’s the point? Why not play Harn? I want to back off just a little from that diatribe to note an exception. There’s a wilderness area outside the first monster lair. Big chasm, a couple of guardhouses/ruins, one good bridge and one broken, an old monastery back in a cliffside overlooking everything (the main lair.) This is pretty nice. What you’ve got here are LOTS of possibilities for assaulting, sneaking, crazy plans, monsters reacting, varying terrain types, etc. There’s a WIDE open list of opportunities for the players to have their characters utilize. The goblins who live here are mostly presented as fodder instead of something more interesting although, eventually, a parlay may be obtained for play more interesting than hacking down goblins. I was MUCH more impressed by this section than the railroad before it or the “epic” plot/railroad after it in the second lair, and it’’s all because of the open-ended nature.

Let’s talk treasure. The adventure starts with the characters each getting a magic item as part of the inheritance. Something generic, like a +1 sword, but then with JUST a little extra, like, oh, allows you to use a cure light once a day, or something like that. Each also generally has a nice little backstory to go along with It. I generally prefer my magic items even more non-standard than the ones listed, but big props for adding the extra flair to each. This happens at least twice more in the adventure, including one opportunity in which the party is rewarded for exploring. And then there’s the rest. +1 shield. +1 sword. +1 arrows. BLECH. Just generic book items without souls. It’s magic. It’s supposed to be weird and whimsical, full of wonder! +1 sword. Uh … there’s a disconnect somewhere. Then there’s the coinage. I didn’t add up all the loot, but it seems light to me. VERY light. Coins=XP in most OSR games. The loot is worth more than hacking, which is why “grab the loot” is more important than “be a hero.” The risk/reward ration seems WAY off in this thing.

Finally, let me note that the second humanoid lair map is TERRIBLE. It’s just linear. Ok, two lines. You go down the halls/rooms in door 1 or the halls/rooms in door 2. This is not a style that jives with the low-powered characters of the OSR. You need room to maneuver. Ambush and be ambushed. Head em off at the pass. Hide in the cracks. Sneak around. All this does it force you in to one encounter after another. There’s is a nice order of battle, for both monster lairs, which I always love to see, but it’s anemic here. Oh boy, more monsters in front of us. While on this lets’ talk about the Forms Being Obeyed. Obligatory introduction is present. Obligatory “describe the monster stats” is present, in spades. Obligatory “convert this to your games stats” is present, in multiple places, too many times. Also present: Obligatory Trade Dress. There’s supposed to be an epic kind of feel to this, but the creatures in the lairs are not telegraphed enough for it. You need some foreshadowing, some hints, that what is coming up is scary. Otherwise the Kobold Sorcerer, and his nefarious plans, are just another Lareth. And just another Lareth is what they are in this adventure.

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Dungeon Magazine #32

My in-laws are downsizing their home and my wife had a yard sale to help them sell their excess. At the end of setup I was (passive-aggressivly) throwing stuff in to a wheelbarrow to take down to the from of the driveway where I dumped it out in a large “$1” pile. I was struck by this. All their life, all they held on to and saved, treated like crap and sold for a $1 each. Most of which didn’t sell. Visions of vast quantities of consumer goods, pristine, going straight from the assembly line to the landfill. I can’t help but draw comparisons to how I feel about the RPG market. Free to not, is this the BEST thing that could be put out? If not, then why do it? Or why keep it if you already have it?

Enough pontificating, time to return to my hypocrisy. I’ve been out of new product to review for awhile. I’ll be hitting Origins this weekend to grab some new review material and buy A LOT of old 4e product to celebrate, in my own special way, the wonderful return of Dungeons & Dragons

The Wayward Wood
By Leonard Wilson
Levels 6-9

This is an adventure in a forest with three (four? Five?) waring groups. And the forest is walking. It tries REALLY hard and has some great elements but could have used a really good edit. A couple of jr. druids contact the party in order to solve the problem with their forest. You see, it’s gotten up and is now walking away. Right at the village the party is in. It will be there in 3 days. It seems the head druid is way for a few weeks and some trolls have wandered in. A group of firbolg have been fighting them, and using fire to kill them. A group of truants don’t like fire and so are having the woods walk away to get away from it. The idea is that the party meets the truants or firbolg, gets them to ally, and then everyone goes and massacres the trolls. The adventure has set encounters, timed encounters, which is nice to see, and I REALLY like the Walking Wood idea. It brings THE FANTASTIC and WONDER to the adventure, something sorely missing in the vast majority of product. It’s also nice to see LARGE numbers of enemies. The trolls number in the 30’s, all in 1 group essentially, and the firbolg and treats have large numbers also. That pretty much forces the creative players play that I enjoy so much. This is a very nice idea and is right on the edge of being recommended. There’s a nice climactic battle at the inn that the DM is encouraged to force in to play, but the rest of the encounters, well, there just are not very many of them. The walking wood is actually a very boring place. Trolls, treants, and the firbolg are about it. Essentially you wander around all day until you have a timed encounter at night, when you get to actually start the adventure. There’s nothing here NOT related to main plot … and very little related to the main plot, and that’s disappointing. So while the set up might be a nice one, it’s far too long with not nearly enough variety to make it on to my list.

Hermes’ Bridge
By Timothy Leech
Levels 7-10

This is a small 10-room ‘dungeon’ on a bridge over a river. It starts strong, but ends boring. And by ‘starts strong’ I mean ‘has one good encounter.’ There’s this troll standing on the bridge (Yeah! Classic troll bridge!), but he keeps running over deeper on to the bridge and sticking his hand in an urn. When he does so a statue comes to life and whomps him, at which time the troll runs back and heals, with the statue not following. EXCELLENT! I love it! And then the troll sees the party and immediately attacks. L A M E! This was SUCH a great opportunity for some role-play between the troll and party! The mindlessness by which most encounters are written in adventures is BORING. The most boring thing a monster can do is attack. The best thing a monster can do if be friendly … while carrying a big and obvious bag of loot … and turning its back to the party a lot. I like combat, but its the easy solution and the one that can be universally appealed to at a later date. Start things off with the troll making an ally and then see how long the party will work with it, or tolerate it. The adventure tries to bring a few other elements, like a healing pool, athena owl, and the like, but it ends up just being room after boring room of monsters. Giant spiders here. Garygoyles there. Nothing interesting to play with. :(

By R. Nathaniel Waldbauer
Levels 8-10

A side-trek, so essentially a 2-pager. This time the party hears about a white dragon that has just shown up. Turns out it’s an albino red dragon. With no treasure. Lame screw job. I’ll never understand why this sort of thing became popular. All it does it encourage the party to be paranoid, which slows things down. This is different than a mimic or trapper. Those are one-shot ‘gotchas.’, almost traps. This is just an intentional screw-job. LAME.

Pearlman’s Curiosity
By Willie Walsh
Levels 1-4

A mystery in a small village with almost/no combat. The party is hired to deliver a crate to wizard in a nearby town, but then the crate goes missing. The group gets to investigate several locations, with one leading to the next leading to the next. There are extensive rumors, clues, and the like presented throughout. Complicating everything is the presence of a nibolg, with the chaos that entails. The village could really use more life to it, things going on other than the adventure and more NPC’s in the village to interact with and get rumors from. There are a lot of rumors … but not a lot of colorful characters to get them from. Further, the amount of text and lack of an overview makes deciphering the entire adventure a chore for the DM. These things are supposed to be play aids but instead generally are a lot of word to prep to run. There might be something to this to you photocopied it and took a pair of scissors and highlighter to it. Do you want to put that much work in to a first level adventure with no combat?

Is there an Elf in the House?
By Rafael Fay & Dan DeFazio
Levels 3-5

A murder mystery in a country mansion. And, of course, there’s a Ring of Impersonation and a Ring of Silence involved. When you have to gimp the party through the use of shit like this, that’s a sign you’ve not created a good adventure. There’s a lot of things going on in the mansion: the main murder plot, a secondary murder plot, a group of NPC’s adventurers staying as guests, the host is ill, there’s a ghost, a bricked up room, hidden skeletons and, of course, the servants. All set in a 50-ish room mansion which is overly described. The amount of weird stuff/subplots is a really good thing; I love a complex inter-personal environment. The format used here, which is the traditional keyed room format, really does not fit this sort of adventure. You get a massive wall of text and need to try and hunt down things which makes running this sort of thing a prep nightmare. Better would be a list of NPC personalities/goals, a timeline, and a minimal room key. IE: reference material. This is one of those adventures that I wish I had the time to rewrite in an updated format. Maybe one day I will.

Ghost Dance
By David Howery
Levels 4-7

This is centered around an American Indian/plains culture with the party coming in to save the poor natives. There’s A LOT of background information on the natives and there’s a LONG section at the end which is almost devoid of player interaction. Neither of those are good things. The middle is filled with a relatively simple straight-line adventure, so this seems to be mostly an exercise in exploding the players to plains Indian culture. Kill some marauders. Visit a friendly village. Kill the chief and a small handful of warriors at an evil village. Then you get to watch the movie. Seriously, that’s just about the extent of the adventure. The ELEVEN page adventure. There’s a lot of cultural baggage here, from the Ghost Dance to war shirts and holy lances, from the AmerIn culture. There’s not a lot of noble savage; the only hint is them giving you a box of shiny round disks that outsiders treasure and they do not. There just isn’t anything decent about this adventure to justify the page count. I think you kill something like 14 dudes in 2 encounters and then the adventure is over. I’m not looking for a high body count, but I am looking for some type of content past the 2-3 encounters presented in this.

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Dungeon Magazine #31


“Hey Bryce, your review today seems shorter than usual.”

Yeah. After reading the first adventure, and on the heels of the last issue, I was going to title this “Dungeon Magazine: We’re no longer picking submissions for inclusion at random.” Then I read the others. A cold mess and a railroad. Oh boy.

Beyond the Glittering Veil
By Steve Kurtz
AD&D (Psionics)
Levels 3-6

This is a nice little adventure in an abandoned city full of undead. As was the style at the time, it’s got WAY too much text and backstory and it goes over the psionics rules in detail, all of which detracts from the adventure. It’s got a nice little ‘village in trouble’ introduction with some good NPC’s to interact with and a realistic set up. It then launches in to the core of the adventure. The party goes through a teleported to a weird alien-like city. Therein they meet some of the intelligent undead inhabitants and a wizard. Some of them are friendly, some could be friendly, and, of course, there’s a big bad guy. This thing has two components that make it worth checking out and maybe running. First, it’s got great NPC’s. Some of them have a little too much text describing them, but they all seem to be real people (even the monster NPC’s) and a purpose behind them. They respond intelligently, and not just in a “they attack!” manner. It’s got a great locale, in a pyramid that houses a city, and the entire thing feels like a real place. While the hook is a little hokey, with a wizard going missing and a friend looking for him and hidden psionic powers (that have almost no impact on the adventure) there’s also a nice bit about how the village reacts. Not the usual sheep! The description of an undead attack on the village, and the realistic way in which the undead react to Turn, struck me as very nice also. Nice, solid advice with some good imagery associated with it. A kind of mix of realism and fantasy and flavor that makes you want to run ALL of your undead that way. These sorts of bits are scattered throughout the adventure and they contribute a great deal towards the positive feelings I have. The MASSIVE amounts of text makes this hard to recommend very highly, but if you treat this kind of a short story, to take inspiration from while jotting down notes, you’d have a great adventure.

Telar in Norbia
By Willie Walsh
Levels 6-8

This is a desert adventure in some ruins. Someone has gone missing from one tribe and you’re sent to find them. Turns out they’ve been abducted by some Set cultists and an evil efretti. This thing is dense and doesn’t have enough summary. There’s not a really great way to tell how everything works together in the abandoned city and the cultists don’t have any notes on how they respond. This thing is just a mess, with monsters, cultists, intelligent, beasts, many many sub-areas… there might be something here but I can’t figure out what is going on. The ruined city is just a mass of encounters that don’t seem to fit together in any way other than “we’re in a desert!” The compound of the ruined city has a bunch of buildings and each building gets it’s own little mini-encounters/dungeon set up … but they don’t really work together or fit together … or at least it’s not obvious how they do so to me after three readings. I know there’s this amulet, and guardian who used to be someone important, and an efretti … but that’s about all I can make out.

A Local Legend
By Greg Rick & Bradley Schell
Levels 1-2

This is a slow little adventure about a village with a local legend. Every nine years a spirit takes 3 young men. There’s a village with a great map, but only a VERY small number of the villagers are described. This turns the adventure in to a kind of railroad. Where NPC1 leads you to #2 and then #3 and then to the monster. The lair is only three rooms and while it has a great entrance mechanism (boulders shoved aside give the creature warning) there’s not really enough in it past that to sustain play. The hook here is pretty good, or perhaps I mean the introduction. There’s an inn, fully booked, a farmer takes you home to stay with him, and his neighbors son gets killed that night. It’s a nice kind of bonding sort of thing to get the players involved with the guy and interested in him when his neighbor starts having trouble. It’s handled much better than most adventures, and doesn’t SEEM forced, even though it’s obviously contrived by the designer. The inclusion of a wise woman with local knowledge of the legends and lans is a nice touch, but could have perhaps used a bit more flavor; the wise woman eventually tells you where the lair is. REALLY not much to this one, but still very nice. It reminds me a bit of the troll home in 100 Bushels of Rye, one of my favorites.

Bane of the Shadowborn
By William W. Conners
Levels 6-9

Do you like gladiator movies? Err … I mean railroads? This is a stupid fucking railroad. Worse than that, it’s ALMOSt like you’re watching a movie. Not quite as bad as some of the 3e/4e movies, but pretty damn close. The party gets teleported to Ravenloft, to a manor home. Instead os exploring and having fun, a good spirit and bad spirit lead you around and fuck with you and drop hints in your lap and railroad you to a finale. It’s about 80 bajillion pages long and you can’t do anything but “enjoy” the scenery. It might as well be scene based for all the “exploration” and “choices” you get to make. “You have done well my chosen ones” and “Lady Shadowborn, in an attempt to warn the party of the dangers ahead” and “Ebonbane has decided to put on a show here for the explorers” and “Ebonbane then beings to taunt the party” and …. You get the idea. The rooms are an excuse for the NPC’s to screw with the party, for good or ill. And of course it’s all combined with that dripping melodrama that is Ravenloft Boxed Text from this era. I get what they are trying to do here: two spirits duking it out, but it’s done in such a heavy handed style, which is then combined with enough WALL OF TEXT to rival anything in China, that all it ends up being is a mass of text that doesn’t work together and random shit being inflicted on the party. And not in a good way. Not in a ‘neutral’ way that OD&D works with, but in Deus Ex kind of way that repulses me.

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GL1 – The Nameless Dungeon


Chris Gonnerman
Levels 1-3

One day you are walking down a road, minding your own business, and the next thing you know goblins are hunting you in a forgotten dungeon …

I hate this adventure. More than usual. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because the weekend is over, or my wife is busy, or I had a bad day at work, my fucking cat is trying to drink my 8am PBR. Maybe. I think, though, it serves as an excellent example of how things fail. Gygax wrote a lot of bad shit. Good DM’s are not always great writers. You have to translate your vision in to the written form for the adventure to be a success. In so many of the things I review I don’t think the vision gets translated. Somehow the great play experiences don’t materialize as a component of the adventure. The DM must add color and bring the adventure to life. But the published adventure must inspire the DM to do that. That’s the fucking point of the published adventure. I don’t know who Gonnerman is.rpggeek implies he has something to do with BFRPG. I’ve never seen it but I think people like it. I’m sure he’s probably a nice guy. He certainly has had the wherewithal to get off his ass and do thing, which I can respect. But this adventure? It’s boring as fuck. Welcome, my friends, to Dwimmermount Part 2.

The adventure is simple: your group is attacked by goblins in a forest, repeatedly, until you chase them. Then you fall through the forest floor and in to the dungeon. The goblins chase you in. This is a three level dungeon with 90 some rooms. Usually multiple levels and a lot of rooms is good sign. Not this time. Sometimes you can tell a lot from a map. Does it look generic & boring or does it looks like someone was excited to drawn it? Does it inspire you, the DM, to ask “Oooh!! What’s in THAT room?” or do you look at it and say “Meh.”Yeah, it’s got some loops. There’s an example or two of same-level stairs. Otherwise, it just looks like a contrivance. There’s nothing to inspire. The wandering table is similar. Just a list. It DOES provide a nice monster stat summary, but otherwise it’s just a list. And not a good list either. Lots of poison and AC3/HD4 monsters on the level 1 list. That’s not cool. The adventure notes that the ants (the AC3/HD4 creatures) are a kind of intelligence test for the PLAYERS. Do they charge in and die or find a better way. While, generally, I agree, that has two problems in this case. First, you put them on the wanderers table in addition to lair’ing them. That makes the parties death random, just as the Save or Die monsters on Level 1 do. Second, how do the players know? Have they memorize the BFRPG monster manual? A troll, a giant, a dragon, these are things the players will recognize. They’ll say “Oh Shit!” and run away. Great! But a group of 10 orcs, one of whom is AC-10 with 99HD and doing 1-100 damage on each hit is unfair, especially at level 1. Player knowledge is to be encouraged, but you can’t subvert that by then using things the players know nothing about and not giving any clues to them that it’s coming. That turns things in to an arbitrary killer DM game. No one wants to play that kind of game.

The encounters, through, are the real problem. They have the same kind of “maximally boring” thing that Dwimmermount has (had?) Every room description starts out with … a description of the room dimensions and where the doors are. You know, the thing the map shows? The fucking PURPOSE of the map? Yeah, that’s it. It described right there as the first couple of lines in each room. Joy. What follows is some boring read-aloud. Well, sometimes. Sometimes there isn’t read-aloud. What’s the point of this? Are you holding my hand or not? Then, there will be something in the room that is boring as fuck and has way too many words to describe. The room is dark. The room has a monster (another paragraph! Yeah!) The room has a feature that you can’t interact with. The room has a feature you can interact with, but to no effect. There is nothing in the room descriptions to catch the DM’s imagination. It’s all BLAND. There is nothing in the rooms to interact with, meaningfully, for the players. For example, the continual darkness room. There’s nothing to it. It’s just dark. Or, the room with the “Slow Mirror” that shows the room as it was one hour ago. Except that the fucking room is empty. What is shows is maybe a random monster poking its head and then moving on. It’s not just fucking boring it’s a waste of time as the players try to figure out what’s going on. What’s going on? Nothing.

It’s as if you took a minimally keyed dungeon, like Mad Archmage, and then expanded the descriptions IN THE MOST BORING WAY POSSIBLE. This looks like Stating Facts. “The room is 20 foot by 20 foot with a 10 foot high ceiling. The walls are grey fitted stone and are slightly slick with moisture. In the center of the room is table. It has four legs and a flat surface on top. The legs are in good shape but are plain and the tables surface shows signs of use, with some minor cuts and scrapes on it.” Yeah, it’s fucking description. It’s a description of nothing. How does that room support play? How does it inspire the DM? There’s room after room after room like that in this adventure … just like in the original Dwimmermount draft.

I like the Internet. You can find some great D&D shit on it. But you gotta wade through the crap to find it. This is part of the 99% of everything published for D&D that is crap. These sorts of well-meaning products are a dime a dozen in the OSR. That’s too bad. But what do I know, I’m drinking PBR at 8am on a Monday.

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Dungeon Magazine #30


… And a Dozen Eggs
By Randy Maxwell
Levels 1-3

Fucking. Sewers. I LOATHE sewers. Actually, I just recently reviewed a 1-pager in sewers that was good. This ain’t that. This is the sort of the adventure that makes you think: Fucking. Sewers. Dinosaurs eggs fell in to the sewers from a magic shop and hatched. They ate some sewer workers. There’s a bounty for bringing them back, dead or alive. it’s not much; I’d recommend you go find something fun to do instead that pays better, like interviewing to be an assistant crack whore trainee. This has a big map of the sewers, done in line style with no detail, and three pre-set encounters. The idea is that you wander around down here FOR MONTHS until you find all the dinos. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Wandering around for months? Yes? No. The 20-entry wandering table is just a list of monsters with stats. Nothing more. Rot Grubs. Common Rats. Giant Rats. Razors so you can slit your own throats to make it end. No, sorry, just kidding about that last one. There’s once good mechanic here and that’s that the dinos grow and the longer it takes the bigger they get. Other than that …. MONTHS in the sewers, drawn as a line map, with 20 boring old book-standard monsters listed as wanderers, and 3 pre-sets? No Thank You.

Elminster’s Back Door
By Ed Greenwood
Any Level

This is an Ed Greenwood adventure. Ed, and sometime Jim Ward, like adventures where you can be of any level. That means PLAYER skill, not character skill, determines the outcomes. That’s very nice, in theory. In practice though Ed has created one of the most boring adventures ever. Your best best is … not do anything. Seriously, just stand there, walk around, search without touching anything. You Win! This is, as the title suggests, the backdoor to Eliminsters Tower. If you are a nice guy and mean him well you make it through ok. If you are a greedy dick you die. That makes sense. It’s also BORING. GO in a room. See something creepy/cool/interesting. Ignore it and go in the next room. It’s like you’re stuck in a cab touring London all day on the highway. “Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!” and then on to the next sight. The interesting shit is VERY nice. A bunch of eyes floating on the ceiling, or blue hands reaching out of walls holding magic items and supplies. Very cool. Now, ignore it and move on. It’s like its the ultimate temptation. Is temptation good? Absolutely! I LOVE to put friendly/neutral monsters in my adventure, who are more than willing to talk to the players. And then I let them wear a 10,000 go platinum crown and make then turn their backs a lot. Temptation is great! But it has to be spread around. Room after room after room of the same thing is BORING. All you’re allowed to do is look at it and not touch. If you touch then Something Bad Happens. Iron golem kills you. Stone Golem kills you. Whatever. The effects are cooler than Tower of the Stargazer, but the interactivity is just not present at all.

By David Howery
Levels 6-8

A trip to free a prisoner help in a wasteland fortress by some nomads. “Some of the role-playing in this adventure hinges on the character’ views on sex roles. If the character group is largely male, this could be fairly entertaining.” Uh … As far I can tell, this refers to the country you are in, for about 5 minutes, being ruled by a Queen instead of a King. Once you get the mission from her this strong warning doesn’t seem to apply anymore. I know nostalgia is rosy but I have a hard time believing this was thing back in 1991. Anyway, too much backstory revels that nomads have captured a diplomat and you need to do a prison break. You make it past an ambush, break in, free the prisoner and run. It’s more than a little bland. There are things here that I like, a lot. Most of the guards are F1’s and there’s not a lot of bullshit “they always” this or “permanent anti-magic” that. It’s just a place, with guards, that you break in to. A Caper! Except … it’s not written that way. We need schedules! Patrol routes! How the dudes inside react when the alarm is raised! An order of battle! When do they release the Death Dogs to roam the halls? None of that is here. Instead, it’s boring room after boring room with too much description tell us what the room was once used for, or how its not being used right now, or yet another explanation of how the jailer is not a nice guy. That. Doesn’t. Support. Play. I’m also more than a little tired of seeing “the guards fight to the death.” This time the lame ass excuse is that its a cultural thing, and how they show their manliness. Take a cue from Ramses 2 boys: march back in town and say you won. There might be one more interesting thing here, and the adventure calls it out explicitly. There are a lot of prisoners/slaves in this fortress. You’re after one. You can escape with one (the place is hard to sneak in/out of, which is cool.) What about everyone else? Leave them chained? Free them, knowing they will probably be torn apart by the guards and their guard dogs? Quick note: Spartacus didn’t turn out too well for that slave army.

A Wrastle with Bertrum
By Willie Walsh
Levels 2+

This is a little bar brawl, that complete complete with an insert for floor plans and cardboard stand figures. It’s also ALMOST too good to use the way the designer intends. There’s this seedy bar. It hosts wrestling matches. The champion is the bouncer, who’s also a half-troll. The prize is something like 2k in gold. You’ve got the bar owner, the bouncer, normal peasant scum, other wrestlers, and then three groups who want to STEAL the prize. Dwarven bandits infiltrating the crowd. A group of halfling bandits who raid the place, CLAIMING to be the feared dwarves bandits. (Nice on!) And finally, a wizard who needs to cash. All hell then breaks loose. This is written as a bar room brawl, a one shot. And I guess it works for that. There’s just SO much more you do with this place. A little extra detail on the NPC’s and you would have had a legendary tavern location! But that’s not what the designer was setting out to do. But if he’d done it … but he didn’t, and didn’t want to … but if he did! So, this works, although there’s WAY too much text for the content.

Thiondar’s Legacy
By Steven Kurtz
Levels 8-12

Uh …. This is an adventure. I mean … Uh … Wow! Dungeon Magazine actually published an adventure! This thing could almost be a completely stand-along product. Look, I’m about to talk smack about this, because it deserves it, but at the core of this is Something Good. You need to decide if its worth salvaging. I think it is. In fact, I don’t even think the salvage job is that severe. I would suggest, however, that you work this adventure n. You need to start dropping hints LONG before the players hit this thing. The College, the legends, etc. This is going to work best when it’s NOT dropped in out of the blue.

The backstory here is LONG. I mean REALLY long. You know the Unseen University, in Discworld? There’s a magi college with that kind of vibe. There’s a kind of power struggle and one of the magi, to be a dick, exercises his Right of Inventory. One every hundred years he can force an Grand Inventrory to be done, which everyone hates because it’s a pain in the ass. In it, they find a magic shield with something unusual about it, which leads then to hire adventurers. That’s backstory one. Backstory two is about the guy who owned the shield. Backstory three is about the guy who the guy that owned the shield was trying to find. Way WAY too much backstory … but … more than enough also for you to slip in to your campaign, and, overtime, build these three places/people up. It would be like Obama, Putin, and Thatcher showed up one day, told you the illuminate were real, they were in it, King Arthur was real (like, not some pict/roman dude, but like really real, all the legends are real!), as was excalibur, and, oh yeah, we think we know where he’s buried. Could you go check it out? Yeah, you can keep the sword. Holy Shit!

There’s a valley adventure that’s … Good! Giant sheep on the hillsides! A misty steamy valley with a river in it! Stone Giants … who are not dicks! They talk to you! Hey have a captured bard playing music for them! You move on, to the dungeon, on a raft. And then something really cool happens. There’s this concept in the OSR of the dungeon as the Mythic Underworld. An important part of this is that the entrance MUST be significant. Or, maybe, that it has to feel like crossing the threshold is significant. This does that. You’re poling your raft down this river, across a lake and discover … a large stone arch that the water flows through. This is it. This is the place you’re looking for. As is so often the case, my own words can’t describe the brilliant SIMPLE imagery that is conveyed. But it works. You are not in the realm of THE OTHER. You pole around, find some signs that others are here, and then get TOTALLY fucked over by the king of the mushrooms. Who isn’t. I usually don’t care about spoilers, but this time I’ll be nice. There’s a hole intelligent set up here when you meet the mushroom king that leads to some great roleplaying. It’s social, or can be. And I LOVE it. You move on to find an eternal warrior you can put to rest. And then on to a HIGE steamy jungle cavern. And then on to a tower. It’s like it never stops! And there’s are NPC’s hanging around! REAL people with real problems and real emotions and they are wonderful and they are dicks and are complex but you can grasp them easily and run them well.

You know Dungeon published a couple of adventures with that stupid red dragon, Scorch of whatever he was called. They were supposed to be EPIC and Might and Majestic. They tried too hard and they sucked. This one though, this one FEELS epic. You feel immersed in it and you feel like something awesome is going on and that you’re a part of it and most importantly that you are DOING things and making a difference. I can’t recall, just now, another adventure that has given me this EPIC level feel. Ever.

You’re gonna need to take a read-though this before you run it, but I don’t think you’ll need to do much more to run it. For all of it’s text and wordiness, as was the style at the time, the ideas cement themselves in to your head. Dave Bowman write a wordy encounter with an old hill giant who likes to eat crab legs. Old Bae. It was quite long, for Bowman. The core of what it is is still fresh in my mind as if I had just read it. This adventure is like that one encounter: it stays with you. I think that’s pretty much the definition of Well Written.

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