HM3 – The Chaos Halls of Belzir

hm3

by Todd Hughes
Freely distributed by Dragonsfoot
AD&D
Levels 4-6

The ancient halls of a long lost wizardpriest of chaos Belzir have been rediscovered. Can the party discover this secrets and find his legendary amulet?

Behold, an adventure! This is a dungeoncrawl in the dungeon of a dead wizard to retrieve an artifact. It has flashes of good content and interesting things that are surrounded by poor content and boring things. It’s either the best bad adventure I’ve ever reviewed or the worst good adventure I’ve ever reviewed … I’m not sure which. It’s free, and worth a looksy if you time.

This module is frustrating. It has a decent amount of interesting things going on but it’s surrounded by things that make me cringe. Let’s take the hook as an example. There is a great four line conversation that the players will overhear in a tavern. Two old farmers gossiping and the line “Gold. Gold and lot;s of magic. That’s what he’s offering.” Woah! Perfect! As a PC I’m already interested! It continues “Yeah, Gold and magic and a fool’s quest. Everyone who’s gone has never returned.” Danger! Foreshadowing! Build up of tension! Ya Hoo! “Well, cept that first feller. He came back with that book.” Ooooo! The plot thickens! “Yeah, but just him. The other three didn’t come back did they?” O. M. G. As a player I would be absolutely DROOLING at this point. It’s short. It’s simple. There’s a lot of room to ad-lib and yet it provides enough for the DM to work with. An absolutely WONDERFUL hook for an adventure! Now, let’s fucking ruin it. “Mitner” the sage in town (ug) is offering a reward (ug) for people that go to an old dungeon and explore it for him (ug). The book was a diary “ug” and the sage wants you to fetch him an amulet in the dungeon so he can keep it safe cause it might be a danger (ug). He warns the characters not to suffer from temptation and take the amulet but hat he will reward them with a whole bunch of magic items if they return it to him. (ug) This is terrible! Absolutely terrible! Why not let the players make their own decisions? Why send them on this mission from a patron? Why not just drop hints of gold, magic, and a POWERFUL ARTIFACT. Cause that’s what the amulet is, an artifact-like magic item. That doesn’t come across at ALL until almost the last page of the adventure. The tavern hook, combined with rumors of the artifact and its powers, maybe combined with a STUPID low offer from the sage, would be enough to get the PLAYERS going. And that’s what a good hook does, motivate the players.

The village of Rashtan, where the previous two modules in this series have taken place, is almost usable as something more than a throw-away. A recent gold rush has caused the place to grow in the last couple of months. There’s not 23 locations, instead of 4, including a dive bar. There’s still not much going on and the descriptions are pretty lame. The guy that runs the Sink Hole, the dive bar, is named Boris One-Ear. It then notes that one of his ears has been torn off. Seriously? I need you to tell me that? That’s the kind of wonders you can expect in the town description. Actually, no, that’s a highlight of the town descriptions. A good town description concentrates on the RELATIONSHIPS between the people in town. Who hates who, who’s in love with who, and how the people in the town interact. That’s what brings a town to life and there’s none of that here. Unless … there’s a 20-entry rumor table. You could take this table, as well as a cross-section of the town, and work up some matrix, using the rumor table as a kind of “whats going on in town” table … which is probably what they should all represent anyway. Rumor 9 is that the new priests in town are all really devil worshipers. Let’s work with that … the laypeople of the old church in town are spreading that rumor without the knowledge of the old priests … in fact, it’s all been started by old Widow Harlock who is a bitter, shrew of a person. Or maybe she’s in league with one of the old priests? Ooooo … they are secret lovers! NOW you’ve got the start of some good town action. Go to the next rumor ands repeat. Thus you now have 20 subplots in an otherwise boring town. But you are going to have to invest time. Like I said, Frustrating.

The wilderness journey to the dungeon has one of the most boring wandering monster tables of all time. It looks just like it was copied verbatim from the 1E DMG wilderness tables. Just a random assortment of animals, humanoids, and vermin. It adds nothing. The journey also includes a couple of programmed encounters. The first has the group finding a wagon on the side of the road, tilting to one side because it’s busted a wheel, while some women look on and some men try in vain to shift the wagon to fix it. Meta-gaming time! Something is going to happen … either the group os going to get attacked by ogres or something or … Yes! the wagon people are actually a bandit group that’s out to waylay the party! It’s not a bad encounter but it takes up WAY too much space at almost a half column AND it has a 3rd level assassin assassinating the party MU. Ouch! I always hated the assassin class. The other encounter is also with bandits but it’s more of a “traditional pit trap in the wilderness with bandits attacking” sort of thing with nothing special. There’s also a bandit lair that has a second entrance to the wizards dungeon. Cool! Not only can the party track back/torture the monster lair out of the killed/captured bandits but they can also find another entrance to the dungeon! And … the bandit lair sucks. Simple layout and just boring old rooms with a couple of traps stuffed with bandits to hack. Orcs & human bandits. There is a brief note on how the bandits react to attack and who comes to the aid of others and rallies. I like these things in intelligent/humanoid lairs since cuts down on my searching through the module to see who responds when the inevitable Alarm Gong gets rung.

The main dungeon is two levels with maybe 21 room son the first level and another 10 or so on the second level. Kind of. It’s hard to count because of the Pocket Dimensions! Maybe I’m excited about pocket dimensions because of the whole Bottle City and Machine level thing I’ve been seeing lately online. Maybe not. They do FEEL different than the pocket dimensions I’ve seen in other products, even though they are all pretty simple affairs.

The dungeon starts with … a welcome mat. That’s my kind of humor. 🙂 The rooms have a kind of light/mild funhouse feel to them, which is probably why I like many of them. They have a certain OSR feel to them. A statue that animates. A pool of water that can bump stats, heal you, kill you, etc. There’s a statue who’s arms you can move to do things, and another room with levers that move GIANT blocks of stone to block off some hallways and open up others. There are a few more examples of things like that in the dungeon. I like that kind of interactivity in my dungeons. It gives the players something to do, dares them, tempts them, and gives then an environment that they can try to use to their advantage. Several of the rooms have some clumsy elements, like plaques on the walls that are the equivalent of ‘Eat Me’ messages. There’s also a decent number of very boring combats in boring rooms with boring treasure. This is VERY frustrating after the Change Pool, the State Arms, or the Block levers. The pocket dimensions are really not much more than a bunch of wandering monsters checks through a wilderness interspersed with a couple of set encounters and ending in some encounter where you get part of a key and get teleported back to the main dungeon.

There are a few decent non-standard magic items int he adventure. A ring that gives you bow proficiency, a nice intelligent sword, and THE AMULET, which is essentially an artifact. Otherwise it’s all book standard items and even the ring/sword don’t have very good descriptions associated with them. The mundane treasures are just piles of even numbered coin amounts and gems. There are a number of new monsters, and a lot of new undead to mix things up a bit for the players. New monsters mean the players don’t know what to expect and good treasure makes the game magical.

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