Dungeon Magazine #15


The Wreck of the Shining Star
Richard W Emerich
Levels 4-8

This is an empty little adventure on a ship wreck. Over three levels and about thirty rooms you encounter an octopus and an undead. The Rooms are devoid of anything interesting to play with and there’s hardly any interesting descriptive text. The adventure mostly consists of a list of what each room contains. Perhaps an adventure that actuaries might find interesting? There is one interesting thing in the adventure, a unique magic item, and it takes half a page to describe. Perhaps someone is trying too hard … and in the wrong ways?

In Pursuit of the Slayer
Carl Sargent
Levels 6-9

This is a case mystery. The party encounters the remains of a massacre and an obviously evil person. As they follow and chase him to bring him to justice they get information that the evil dude has been known as a good dude for a long time. It’s got a time based element so the longer the party dallies the harder the final fight is. It has some decent monsters from the Creature Catalog which mixes things up a bit … for a moment I thought there was some originality here. Bits of this are ok but it seems to telegraph its intentions well ahead of time.

The Dragon’s Gift
Thomas M. Kane
Levels 2-7

I like a lot of the OA adventures in Dungeon, mostly because they have a strong fairy-tale like element. The Celestial Bureaucracy, talking animals and spirits that do more than just “Roll for init as they attack!” add the whimsical element that I am usually looking for. This is a bit of linear railroad, but a mostly enjoyable one with some great encounters. What do you do when you mean a giant along a narrow path, with no room for either to pass by? The “paperwork” trope which always seems so tiresome in most adventures with monster bureaucrats doesn’t seem out of place or forced. I suspect that you could mine Dungeon Magazine for OA encounters and sprinkle them throughout your own games and get a lot of the whimsical element that I look for. There’s a kind of enforced politeness in these because of the OA character classes/honor nonsense, but if you instead just see it as “you can talk to all the monsters” and VERY few things immediately attack, then you can see the attraction to adventures like this one. Maybe that’s because, even though it’s linear, the addition of the social elements provide the Choice critical to a good adventure. Oh, yeah, in this one you travel up a river to meet a water spirit who wants to give you some treasure. And he means it!

The Glass House
Wolfgang Baur
Levels 4-6

I’m not sure what’s up with this one. It’s just a simple raid on a house that a giant inhabits. There’s a huge backstory with love, selkies, undead, and tragedy. None of which matters because the hacking is going to be short and sweet as the party cuts down the giant and his wolves. There’s are elements of the norse in this, with a frost man named Sigurd and a magic cauldron. With some good theming you might be able to salvage something here. MAYBE. If you set the guy up as some place the party had to go, complete with his lazy troll servants, and then added the tragic element to it later then the party would have a nice little quandary on their hands.

Roarwater Caves
Willie Walsh
Levels 1-4

A decent adventure! In Dungeon! Woo Hoo! It all starts with a good name: Roarwater Caves. It’s a dungeon crawl/raid. I swear I like things are NOT dungeon crawls, but not in this issue. There this guy in town that’s buying fish from Xvarts nearby for a fraction of their value and undercutting the local fishermen. Lately his shipments have stopped because the Xvarts have been taken over by bugbears. The xvarts want him to find someone to come kill the bugbears. That’s a pretty decent set up. Monsters that are not psychotically evil, some good human natures stuff in there as well. There’s also a good end-game chaos play where a large band of kobolds raid the Xvarts as the players enter The Big Fight. Then a bunch more Xvarts from another faction show up, creating even more chaos! AND there’s a bunch of shit in the dungeon that the players can use to make things even more Chaotic. Sweet little set up. It’s supplemented by a GREAT rumor table that applies to the adventure and is not overly simplistic, some good rooms in the dungeon that are not straightforward, a great map with lots of elevation changes and pallisades/barricades, and the dungeon getting cut off by high tide … and ALL of this has some clues dropped around to let the players know what’s going on ahead of time. It’s got some good flavor as well, like a container of pitch dyed yellow (which explains the old xvart adage “as yellow as pitch.” It’s that sort of thing I get really excited about. Nice job. Worth grabbing. Oh, there’s a bunch of crappy shit I left out, like the Xvarts double-crossing the players. That’s lame. The players need to learn to love again and reinforcing the Kill Em All attitude because of a double-cross is uncool. There is a cute section that has the xvarts detaining the players ‘for medical reasons.’ which is a nice jab.

The Elephants Graveyard
David Howery
Levels 5-7

This is an isle of Dread clone, maybe mashed up with the old Source of Nile bookkeeping game. Go on a jungle adventure with pack animals, encounter hostile cannibals and natives, find the lost valley and collect loot, then explore the ruined temple with some Indian Jones traps thrown in. It seems mostly like an exercise in tedious bookkeeping as you manage your pack animals load, supplies for your porters, and the bullshit disease and heat rules from WSG which do NOTHING to add fun to the game.You might be able to lift the hook. Imagine lots of copies of a fake treasure map going around town, being sold to suckers. Except one sage KNOWS its not fake, or part of it isn’t anyway, and hires a group of Tomb Raiders. I like the hidden knowledge aspect of that as well as the ‘wagon train of idiots’ that could happen because of it, ala Gone Fishin’!

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17 Responses to Dungeon Magazine #15

  1. Anonymous says:

    I hope you continue with these dungeon reviews, however I find myself in increasing disagreement. You seem to have somewhat missed the point regarding “In Pursuit of the
    Slayer”, where intelligent play is rewarded, and completely failed to notice the merits
    of the Elephants’ Graveyard. These aren’t perfect modules (I don’t like the railroady
    evil treant/good elves encounter in the former), but they are good. And in Roarwater
    caves, what is wrong with the xvart double-cross? Do you think they are famed for
    their honest dealings? Shouldn’t the PCs have Plan B available in case of treachery?

    • Anonymous says:

      The monsters are ALWAYS treacherous, dude. At least in published adventures.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Let me tell you how you’re wrong … 🙂

      I didn’t miss the point of Slayer. I just thought it was bad. And which elements, specifically, of Graveyard am I missing? The fact that its a clone of X1? The actual Elephants Graveyard aspect and plain of bones is nice, but that’s about it.

      • Gus L. says:

        I need to reread Elephant’s Graveyard, because I absolutely adored Elephant’s Graveyard when I was a wee GM. It seemed like the coolest idea ever both with it’s open world philosophy and non-Western European pastiche setting. I think reading it was the first time I considered maybe D&D didn’t need to be set in some Tolkien fantasy world of big forests, craggy alps and grassy plains. Instead of dragons one might have confused elephant god avatars, and not every treasure needed to be gold or a sword +X. I also remember thinking “This is how people who are serious about writing adventures do it” because of the scope and sandbox elements.

        For that alone I will always have a soft spot for Elephant’s Graveyard. At the time I remember also trying to figure out “How are you supposed to play this – do you need to help the villagers?” I mean I was twelve or something, I thought dwenomer was a real word in common usage.

        It seems to me that Elephant’s Graveyard attempts to present a sandbox, and while it’s heart of darkness cliche-a-thon is a bit tired it felt inspirational to me at the time for scope and flavor, and I can’t see it completely losing that. It might not be what one should want in a published product (your review and subsequent explanations make it clear it isn’t), but it still strikes me as more interesting and inspirational (though I remember thinking the temple was lame even as a kid) then another ruined Dwarven something. Additionally, looking at old D&D modules makes me think a lot of them suffer from similar flaws.

        That at least some authors of “old school D&D” adventures push past the errors of 1980’s adventures (Elephant’s Graveyard apparently doesn’t even if it’s from the 90’s) and find ways to be more useful to players and GMs.

  2. Badmike says:

    Elephant’s Graveyard is one of the best adventures in early years of Dungeon. It is COMPLETELY non-railroady, mostly location based, and has a lost valley inhabited by a lost temple full of goodies. Your characters can discover the valley and help the original people who have formed a city outside the valley; your characters can ignore the villagers; they can wipe out the villagers and loot all the ivory in the valley; they can set up camp in the valley and become millionaires with the ivory; they can explore the temple; they can ignore the temple; they can move the original people back in the valley after wiping out all the threats; they can explore hidden caves with monsters and treasures in the walls of the hidden valley (I know there are none as written, but any DM with a brain could create dozens of these); etc etc etc. There is literally nothing wrong with this adventure if you like “lost jungle city” type encounters. I’ve run it twice and it was a huge hit each time, and both parties ended up doing completely different things at the end out of the dozens of choices they could have made.

    Roarwater caves is a good low level adventure, I like the maps, but there are just too many plotlines there. Just have the party give it a good old hack and slash and clean out the caves, should be fun.

  3. Bryce Lynch says:

    Now see, I’m the opposite. I WANT the plotlines from Roarwater. I want some factions that I can thrown some PC-gasoline on to. Elephant, in contrast, is nothing more than a generic framework with a lack of detail.

    Some of this comes from how I view the purpose of a published product. I UTTERLY REJECT any argument that begins with “any decent DM could …” That’s why I’m paying my cash, to get those ideas from the author. If they can’t be bothered to provide them then why not just shorten the adventure to”Lost jungle city with an elephant graveyard, cannibals, indiana jones type stuff.”

    [That’s a bit of hyperbole; there is clearly a line to be crossed in expectations from the DM.]

  4. Anonymous says:

    Badmike has done an excellent job of describing the merits of the Elephants’ Graveyard. If I
    may attempt to summarise, it is an exciting environment for the PCs to interact with as they see fit.
    “To define is to kill, to suggest is to create” is a relevant quote here. But then if you don’t like
    the Gygaxian classics such as G1-3, D1-3, S4, then perhaps this isn’t the adventure style
    for you.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Hey, know where you can shove your pithy sayings AND your slavish devotion to Gygax?

      Comparing Graveyard to those is silly, they have little in common except for maybe D3. There is a line between too little detail and too much. Too much creates a wall of text and attempts to solve the worlds problems through rules and irrelevant detail. Too little and you haven’t provided me anything for the cash I’m spending.

      Here, here’s the perfect adventure for you idiots: “Giant whale with a air-based culture living inside it that uses fire for an economy.” You can send me the $20 you now owe me.

  5. Anonymous says:

    “The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late, Theoden King”.
    There were many excellent adventures written during the B/X-1E era – it was a
    golden time. As well as Gygax’s contributions, there was the Morris/Bambra UK
    series. However there is also lots of good stuff now – Blood Moon Rising, Barrowmaze
    I and II, The God that Crawls come to mind. Is that slavish devotion to Gygax?

    D1 and D2 are very akin to the Elephants Graveyard in that you can dash through
    with little risk/reward, or you can poke around in the environment and something exciting
    will happen. It might not be exactly what the PCs wished for. Do you muck around with
    the frosted corpses at the start of G2?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well, that escalated quickly.

  7. Bryce Lynch says:

    I REALLY don’t like it when people say “but a good DM” or “its the DMs job” as an excuse for a piece of crap. You’re right, good DM could. But then again a good DM doesn’t need to go buy this crap. Further, the entire line of arguments is essentially “Yes, you are correct, but I don’t wish to admit that you are correct so instead I’m going to make a specious appeal to “its the DMs job.”

    What the fuck is the point of any quality standards?

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t disagree with you. But as I join you through your slog through what seems to be a vast avalanche of old-school gaming material (and we shouldn’t lose sight of how amazing THAT is; just a few short years ago, DF was the only source of new 1E material), I do note that the hooks seem to be grinding down on you and you, in turn, become increasingly frustrated with them.

      If I may, I offer the opinion that hooks should simply be disregarded. There was a discussion, many years ago now, on yogsothoth.com, where it was boiled down. There are really only four different hooks; that’s it (and, no, I don’t specifically recall what they are). We can dress them up differently, but there are ultimately four options.

      What you’re reviewing, mostly, are MODULES. These are intended to be inserted into the DM’s campaign. As a fallback, most modules can also be played as a stand-alone. With the former, the Author’s hook is disregarded: the DM will incorporate into his/her campaign. With the latter, who cares? You and a group of friends meet, roll up PCs and away you go! is the hook cheesy? Railroady? Again, who cares? It’s a one-off. “We must enter the Catacombs of Frump and retrieve the Thorny Staff of Hoo-Ha? On pain of death?” Every gamer worth his salt says,” Booyah!” and off they go. The game necessitates a certain level of suspended disbelief. We are discussing a game with blink dogs and talking trees, after al.

      I would accept a caveat that a hook that involves the Author’s unpublished fantasy novel is up for legitimate mocking, but, as a DM, I come here to find out what these modules are about and whether my group (of which I am a member!) will enjoy them.

      Keep up the good fight! Merry Christmas.

  8. Well, that was me, but I seem only able to post Anonymously on your board now.

  9. Badmike says:

    So the consensus is Elephant’s Graveyard is a top ten-er? Still, keep up the good work, bro, I love the differing opinions, even when they are wrong….;)

    • Knutz Deep says:

      Top 10er? I don’t think so but I do think it’s better than Bryce describes. I just re-read it and it holds up pretty well. There are elements I don’t like such as the PCs are incapable of climbing the valley walls and the whole volcano explodes destroying the entire valley. Those seem railroady to me and unnecessary. Easily fixed though. The rest of it is as open as Badmike says above. I’m ear marking this one for my jungle sandbox mashup. Should fit in very well.

  10. rr ww says:

    played Elephant’s Graveyard 30 yrs ago. was great

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