Dungeon Magazine #7


A couple of potentially decent setting adventures in this issue. Several offer a more open-ended play style without railroading that makes them more interesting to me.. They are also going to take A LOT of work to turn in to something playable. There’s also a circus adventure, as featured on the cover art. What is the fascination with the circus and carnival? I get the festivals are an important part of village life but no circus ever appeared in a D&D adventure that did not have something fishy going on. Smart players would just have their characters burn it down and put everyone to the sword summarily. It’s called ‘Risk Mitigation.’

by Nigel Findley
Levels 1-3

This adventure has the party going to a wizards house in town to pick up a potion. It’s short by Dungeon standards, just 5 pages. You meat an NPC and he pays you to go pick up a potion. You go to the wizards house and pick it up. You get attacked by some paid thugs on the way to deliver it. Adventure over. What it does well is hint at other uses, so it’s more presenting several interesting NPCs and situations and then tacking on a pretext so as to call it an adventure. The NPC hook is a bit foppish, with plots and enemies. The wizards falls much more closely to the Reprobate side of the spectrum. That makes him, and his bizarro home, much more interesting than the vast majority of wizards TSR and WOTC ever published. There’s really nothing new or unusual in his home (bizarre wizard stuff!), the wizard (he’s a reprobate) the hook NPC (fop with plots) or the thugs (run away or get revenge.) What is unusual is that all of this useful detail was included in a Dungeon Magazine adventure; it’s quite unusual to see. I’ve giving this a solid C+/B- for content you can steal and reuse for your game. It’s not ground-breaking but it is decent. So, better than the vast majority of crap out there, old or new.

Tortles of the Purple Sage – Part 2
by Merle & Jackie Rasmussen
Levels 4-10

Part 2 of the exhaustive overview of the lands around the tortles. This is exhaustive in generic and useless detail, mostly of a trading post called Richland. I like the idea of a frontier trading post; it’s a nice change from the little usual Keep on the Borderlands type frontier land holding. The problem is that this thing is exhaustive in generic detail. “Fuller: this textile worker processes cloth by shrinking & pressing it to increase its weight.” And there are scores of examples of content like that. It add absolutely nothing to the site. No NPC’s, no colorful content, no hooks. There are priestly societies call The Lawful Brotherhood and the Neutral Faction. It tries to add some flavor with Trader Jack, the guy in charge, but it’s too little. It’s too bad; the map of outpost doesn’t suck too much (needs more surrounding/supporting lands to support all the tradesmen) and the concept of a frontier trading post is a good one. In general, trading posts and mining camps, towns, don’t get enough D&D coverage.

The Matchmakers
by Patrician Nead Elrod
Levels 1-3

This is an open-ended city adventure in which the characters are paid to help a young lady elope. Two merchant houses, both alike in stature, in fair Povero. You get a decent description of the city, the characters involved, her routine, details on the places she hangs out, a schedule for a couple of events to frame the action, and a couple of complications. Good complications like: oops, that guy was actually a jerk, or What do you mean you’re not the chick we’re after? The party is then on their own to hatch some crazy scheme or schemes to grab her and deliver her to the meeting point. That’s the kind of adventure type I like most: a setting the party gets to run rampant in, be it city, dungeon, or wilderness. There’s some decent detail about the town: press gang action on the docks and the like. There’s too much extraneous detail in the various rooms described in the villas the party may venture in to; the penchant for Doomsday Book recording in this era is unfortunate and obfuscates the real content.With prep and notes you could salvage this in to a fairly routine adventure.

Samurai Steel
by Daniel Salas
Levels 3-5

Yet another open-ended adventure, but this time the party is trapped in a village, having been warned that they will almost certainly be killed in a few days when they are sure to be accused of treason. They are supposed to investigate to gather evidence that they are being framed and that a certain someone close to the local lord is plotting against him. This is supposed to be open-ended like The Matchmakers was, a couple of events, some locations details, some NPC’s to interact with, etc. The Matchmakers was ok but this falls short. There’s just not enough extra detail about the village and the people that live thee to help the DM turn it in to some place real. There are maybe four interesting people in he village and one of them dies 10 minutes in to the adventure after warning the party they are sure to be accused in a couple of days time. The only details of the village are the two or three spots that contain clues and the only other people to be detailed are the traitors that the party has to discover. The rest of the content about the village isn’t even really generic; it just doesn’t exist. You get killed in a couple of days AND you almost certainly get killed if you try t leave the village early AND you get killed if you start stabbing NPC’s in the throat (though they are commoners AND you get killed if … you get the picture. This pretends to be open-ended but is a railroad. Do what the designer wants you to do or have your characters killed. Uncool.

The Jungling Mordo Circus
by Vic Broquard
Levels 10+

I love seasonal activities. I run a meetup for them. I subscribe to the Indian Festival Calendar and try to hit a lot of the local corn/beet/cucumber/etc festivals in the small towns around Indiana. The year has pattern to it with seasonal activities, seasonal fruit & veg, and festivals. I get that and I love that. This yearly routine & cycle has always been a staple of life and I get the importance that festivals played, and still play, in life. BUT JESES H FUCKING CHRIST WHY THE FUCK ARE PEOPLE OBSESSED WITH PUTTING EVIL CARNIVALS IN D&D? It doesn’t work. It NEVER works. Unless you put festivals in routinely then the party will know something is up when the circus shows up. The smart thing to do is to just burn it down and kill everyone. Especially when you are level 10+, as in this adventure. Who is going to mess with your 10+ party? The local authorities? The party is probably the local law. The piece of shit adventure has a kidnapping ring run by a level 20 evil wizard. He’s got the fucking Wish spell but he kidnaps people for money. And he DOES have the Wish spell. It’s crazy .The place is thick with high-level assassins, wizards, ACs’s in the -6 to -8 range, and the like. It’s also on the up-and-up, generally, except for the kidnapping and has a hired security contingent made up of Lawful monks and good clerics. This thing is so forced as to be putrid. The ringmaster has AC -11 and is a level 15 illusionist. Why the fuck are these people here? Don’t they have towers to build and experiments to conduct so the forces of good, led by a holy paladin, can invade and win the day only to have the paladin fall and be corrupted? There’s no real adventure here, just an evil circus described so the DM can have someone kidnapped and the party can investigate. There’s no hook or adventure at all other than what I just described, which is described to the reader in just about as many words.

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10 Responses to Dungeon Magazine #7

  1. Kilgore Trout says:

    Funny review!

    A 2E era Ravenloft supplement called Carnivale made a pretty decent fist of presenting a traveling circus but it was presented as more of a traveling adventure locale rather than an adventure per se. Also it had a mix of alignments and factions and wasn’t ridiculously high level.

  2. I started buying Dungeon with issue #7 or so, so a lot of these adventures got used in my campaign (with college and a job, didn’t have much chance to write my own stuff). Nightshade is a good NPC/adventure to drop into a home campaign. He ended up being a good NPC wizard for one of my campaigns at the time. He was just crotchety enough that the party didn’t work for him often, but when they did, it was always memorable.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Glad you liked the Matchmakers; defining the problem, then letting the party attempt any plan they fancy gives plenty of opportunity for superior play. The level of detail given for one of the buildings makes it ideal for a burglary scenario. I got two adventures out of this one.

  4. AL says:

    Regarding your comment about the Circus module: You can’t just “burn the place down”. On page 59, it lists them having a Want of Fire Extinguishing with 47 charges left. If a DM can read into that info, it tells you that these clowns have counter-measures in place for the precise scenario. Most likely groups have tried that in the past and hence they expended 3 charges in the process. Your PC party attempting to burn the tents down would quickly get thwarted, their plan foiled and dealt with post haste. In all likelyhood they have spotters in place all around the tents since-why they would have a Wand of Fire Extinguishing thats been used to begin with.
    This is one of my favorite Dungeon modules. As far as motives go….they are most likely insane clowns that just want to mess peoples lives up. Who cares what levels they are. A good DM can do so much with this module. Its meant to be difficult and to test a high level party. I think it does the job well, provided the DM has an ounce of creativity to add to the content.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You do bring an interesting point with how cliched the use of carnivals in play can be. Making some inofensive/benign appearances of such in a game could be doubly effective then, i guess.

  6. MatthewAC says:

    Just ran Matchmakers for my 5e group. Was great fun…they kidnapped the girl with a plan that used cross-dressing via “disguise self” and all kinds of hilarity then turned the girl over…started walking away before realizing the whole thing was weird rushed back to find the two NPCs dead. They are now in a protracted battle of wits against Adrian Folbre as he attempts to scapegoat them and they attempt to bring him to justice.

  7. Jeff Johnson says:

    I’m surprised I am the only one to say this. But if the players immediately attack every circus they see, due to metagaming, I will have a problem with it.

    Why put evil carnies in dnd? because of the number of people that don’t trust/are scared of them. Of course with an evil circus, you also get the opportunity for evil clowns. And given the way clowns freak some people out it is no wonder in my mind why they would try to put an evil circus in dnd.

    — Of course, thanks for the wonderful review. After reading it, I am thinking I need to read the matchmakers.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      “You have to do it. My story requires your 13th level characters to all be captured and have all of your limbs amputated and your eyes/tongues cut out.” Metagaming is fine. Consequence free D&D? That’s another issue. “A circus! We slit all their throats!” can have consequences. The alternative is everyone involved knowing the other side knows, and the delicious dance around that. That’s some fun D&D!

  8. Reason says:

    Is anyone “really” scared of clowns though. Sure it’s a meme. But the # of people I’ve met who really fear clowns is zero. Honestly. Birds- lizards- boats- all the usual creepy crawlers I’ve seen people genuinely react against. Never once seen someone react to a picture of a clown on TV/Computer/Poster but I have every other fear.

    I’m 40, been to a few circuses. Clowns are ok, or boring, or frustrating. No more. Then again I’m not from somewhere where parents hire them for kids birthdays.

    I just can’t bring myself to do clowns/circus. ASE 2 included.

  9. squeen says:

    For me, “Something Wicked This Way Comes” capture the weird-magic(s) and terrifying ambiance of an Evil Circus better than anything.

    Byrce’s other point about having enough benign carnivals/events is also a good one. I’m a believer of doing this in a campaign-world, i.e. having more non-threatening and mundane elements than otherwise. You might argue that makes for a boring game, but I think is cleans the palette and throws contrast on those (more interesting) elements.

    Not EVERY henchman should betray you.

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