Dungeon Magazine #33

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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
AD&D
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
AD&D
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
AD&D
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.

Alicorn
David Howrey
AD&D
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
AD&D OA
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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4 Responses to Dungeon Magazine #33

  1. Anonymous says:

    My players enjoyed the Siege of Kratys Freehold (many years ago). They raided quite a bit – firstly they killed the drummers and watchers, then infiltrated the enemy camp. There are a decent number of options the PCs can try. Not quite in the same league of excellence as the Siege at Sukiskyn in B10 Night’s Dark Terror, but that is a tough yardstick, B10 being one of the best adventures ever written.

  2. I can never understand why high level adventures think that they begin with the party ‘stranded’, ‘trapped’, ‘imprisoned’, ‘poisoned’, etc. First of all in an ongoing campaign the players grow attached to their characters and develop a level of confidence and invincibility that they should after a year or two of facing dangerous monsters, evil spell casters and death traps. One would think that walking through any crap-hole town or village on the way to something greater would be a place where they could ‘let their hair down’ a bit. Only a heavy handed D.M. would take an entire party and shove them into some silly situation that he knows full well the players themselves would not be stupid enough to get themselves in. Most D.M.s that do such things are not the ‘ongoing campaign’ types or at least wont be for long especially if he ends up TPKing them on one of these jaunts. It is bad for both D.M. and player unless disposable heroes are used. In which case the entire adventure is meaningless and pointless. The silly part of ‘stranding’ a high level party of adventurers on an island is that in a 7th-12th level party any one of several spells or items could easily save the party immediately rendering the X amount of pages written moot. And the ridiculous part of this topic is that there are literally dozens of adventures published like this without a word about how impractical they are. Teleport, Dimensional Fold, a simple potion of polymorph into a dragon and put the rest of them on your back flying them back to shore, Probability Travel, a few Fly spells (each spell able to cover about 36 miles…how far is this island?) All are simple solutions out of this situation. People living in the world of Dungeons and Dragons no matter what Realm know that magic exists and that horrible monsters and situations can be found anywhere at any time. So, even though a Paladin off duty doesn’t trudge around town patrolling in his +2 Full Plate he still wears his back up suit of +2 chain under his tunic. Even though wizards will be more apt to have a few extra non-combat spells such as Comprehend Languages, Filth’s Bane and such….at 7th-12th level he still will be packing a fireball and will have precast stoneskin when he woke up that morning…..so, had did such a very able and well equipped band of characters get taken completely unaware? Even while sleeping characters protect themselves with spells like Fire Trap, Wyvern Watch, Glyph of Warding, etc. I just dont get it….I laugh every time I read crap like this and of course there is also the hundreds of adventures that kill the first 6-12 pages with the LOOOOONg over land trek to the destination location…..high level adventurers don’t walk….they ride pegasi, flying carpets, Fly spells (once again) potions of Flying’ Polymorph, Driuds polymorph (after 6th level)…..so why do you writers think they would waste their time killing goblins, bandits, orcs,, etc. They had their fill of that from levels 1st-5th and are frankly ‘done with that’. Dont get me started on EPIC level adventures when by then someone in the party can SCRYE someone near the location and then World Walk, Plane Shift, Cubic Gate, write a Scroll of Mass Teleport etc to the location….think before you write please. Also don’t forget the spell Free Action when you try to leave them imprisoned….just sayin….

  3. Michael S. Rooney says:

    I am oddly flattered to respond to a dismissive review of something I cowrote almost 25 years ago. Dennis, your criticism, as I understand it, is that a party of 7th-12th level characters would not be trapped on the island, and hence the adventure as written would not occur. Your point is a legitimate concern. However, I do not find it a pertinent criticism of “That Island Charm,” for two reasons.

    First, you seem to assume every magic-user of those levels will have access to spells such as fly and teleport. However, in AD&D as I played it and as the rules are written, any particular magic-user has a very limited array of spells in his or her spell book, especially those of higher level, and what those spells are is not always a matter of player choice. While fly and teleport are popular choices, there are other very attractive spells of those levels (fireball, lightning bolt, conjure elemental, cone of cold, etc.), and a 9th level m-u will only have a couple choices. Teleport, I would also note, will not allow the caster to arrive safely at an unknown destination, as the island is at the beginning of the adventure. So its use would only be as an escape. However, a single teleport would not carry an entire party of adventurers, let alone any of the shipwrecked NPCs. So it would be a one-way ticket, or the m-u would have to rest and re-memorize teleport multiple times for multiple trips — and then meanwhile the adventure would proceed on the island without the party wizard. Likewise, a fly spell will not transport more than a character or two, and the island is not that close to shore. The other magical transportation types you mention (dimensional fold, probability travel, Pegasi, etc.) are even more rare, and so not something a written scenario need assume as a common issue. (In passing I will note that stoneskin should not be a daily cast spell — even with the broken 2e version, the material component of diamond dust should be enforced to keep it from being routine.)

    Second, the adventure acknowledges that the PCs may be tempted to leave as soon as possible. But presumably any good-aligned adventurers will want to help the stranded NPCs, which will draw them into the scenario’s plot. Even non-good PCs will need to arrange some transport off the island, and anyone who joined the mission in the first place is most likely interested in the very large quantities of treasure in the sunken ships, which several NPCs repeatedly mention. Again, pursuing either goal will lead to the main plot.

    Finally, I will explain that the suggested levels were bumped up late in the writing process, after playtesting with 6th level characters resulted in a TPK and an easy victory for the bad guys. The save vs. charm at -4 effectively turns party members into enemies or at least completely neutralizes them for the climactic battle. 12th level characters would probably find it a bit easy, but a small group might be sorely tested with a couple failed saves, as a second playtest with 9th level characters narrowly avoided death. I would probably suggest levels 7-9 if I could rewrite it today.

    In any case, I’m tickled that people are still getting some mileage out of this adventure. It was written with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, but it’s designed to be lethal too.

  4. SolCannibal says:

    Funky question – how well or badly would the islands from “That Island Charm” and “Mad Gyoji” work out meshed up as a single place/adventure?

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