Dungeon Magazine #43

d43

Switching to Google Docs for writing. Let’s see if that helps with the auto-correct.

Jacob’s Well
by Randy Maxwell
AD&D
Levels 2-4

1-on-1 adventure. L.A.M.E. But it’s a REALLY good one. Yeah! But it’s Yet Another Adventure Based On The Movie Alien. L.A.M.E. But it’s has some decent atmosphere. Yeah! But it is STILL a Dungeon adventure, meaning the atmosphere is few & far between. L.A.M.E. This is a kind of combination Alien/The Thing adventure for 1 party member. You’re trapped in a border trading post during a blizzard when one of the guests has a slaad hatch out of them. I fucking love Slaad. This thing is organized for shit, laid out over multiple columns, keyed room descriptions and time based events mixed in. There are hints of greatness here, ruined. “Try to build sensation of dread. For example, when the player goes outside they could be buried in snow from a roof snowslide. They hear footsteps stalking closer but can’t see … the NPC coming to save them.” or even “When the NPC give suggestions they should be tailored to their personalities. For example, the orcs will suggest using someone as bait, and not really care about the baits survival.” Hints of greatness. What this adventure needs is MORE of that and less of the senseless exposition it goes into. A simple timeline, with events on it. A simple list of NPC’s, with their personalities. A list of flavor suggestions for building dread. The writer MUST have had a vision for this adventure. The purpose of writing it down in Dungeon is to effectively communicate that vision to us, the readers, so we can recreate it. That’s not done here. That’s too bad, for what little is present is very good. If you wanted to salvage a horror adventure then you could use this one IF you put a lot of work in to it.

Moving Day
by Roger Baker
AD&D
Levels 3-5

Oh Jesus H. Fucking Christ. A magical industry that makes water elemental powered flatboats. That’s right Roger, just strip all of the joy and wonder of magic away and turn it into another fucking steam engine. And you’re transporting cockatrice specimens, among other things, and the adventure is not a farce. New to town, to get the job you need a reference from the guild in question, two from other people, or a reference from the towns wizard’s guild, or a 500-gp bond. All for 50gp. Uh …. What’s the likelihood of any of that? How about we just burn down your fucking boat and make massacring the town the adventure for this evening? SO many adventures, especially in Dungeon, are like torture porn for the DM/players. How much bullshit will the players put up with from the DM in order to play D&D tonight?

There are hints of the hoped-for farce: a wizards convention, loading 500# of cheese on to the barge, and so on. but it doesn’t go there. There are a dozen or so linear encounters. The first few are pretty decent, setting up some classic situations, like riverboat grifters and a union riot. After that it gets a bit rougher as the boat moves on to an underground passage. There’s a trading post with potential, and a couple of encounters with potential, like a lone dwarf who’s lost his friends and kobold bandits, but they tend to lack the color needed. Lots of text here, but you could salvage something worthwhile. If you wanted to work at it.

Mayhem at Midnight
by Trae Stratton
Dragonlance
Levels 4-7

Uh … 1 encounter? You camp in a clearing, get charmed by some lights and fight a tentacle monster. It’s not labeled as a Side Trek, but at four pages maybe even Side Trek has some standards? Although four pages for one encounter seems more than a little excessive. Wait, what am I saying?!?!!? It’s Dungeon Magazine! I’m not even sure why this is labeled as Dragonlance.

King Oleg’s Dilemma
by Lee Sheppard
AD&D
Level 1-4

This adventure revolves around setting up one encounter: a ruined hill fort defended by the party being attacked by some gnolls. There’s a little bit of role-play in town and a couple of encounters before the fort, but the fort encounter is clearly why this was written. Given a ruined fort the party has to hold out against a band of 22 gnolls and a few leader-types. I like these desperate last stand type adventures; there’s a few in the Troll Lords Death in the Treklant series that are nice. For this to work you need an environment dynamic & colorful enough for the party to use their brains to come up with defenses. Given a ruined fort full of stuff, MacGyver/Hannibal your way to survival. To do that you need things to work with. This adventure doesn’t do that. It instead has a small keep in the fort and assumes you’ll be there. Eh. Go buy the Treklant adventures.

Into the Silver Realm
by Steve Kurtz
AD&D
Levels 8-12

I’m not sure it’s actually possible to play this adventure, it’s so complex. Or, rather, the creatures are so complex. Essentially the characters will be invading a Githyanki complex near Neverwinter. Inside they will face about 8 different types of Githyanki opponents, each with a complex array of different powers that the DM must be familiar with. Once this task is done the party must then travel to the astral plane and do it all over again, but this time in a fortress of about 100 Githyanki … each with powers and ability and immunities and strategies to keep track of. OD&D monsters were easy, even the mind flayer. 90% MR and a simple table for mental blast. With the advent of the Splat Book we now have an adventure that needs all the core, plus Complete Psionics, plus Tom of Magic, and also maybe Manual of the Planes and the Outer Planes Appendix to the Monstrous Compendium. And you need to be familiar with all the Githyanki sub-types and their powers.

Frankly, I don’t see how this is possible. Any sane person would use stealth, but even then … Besides, the adventure is boring and lacks any interesting detail. It’s just a ‘sneak through the fortress and don’t trip the generic alarms’ adventure, with nothing fun or interesting or evocative in it.

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11 Responses to Dungeon Magazine #43

  1. Melan says:

    Jacob’s Well: Concur. Potentially excellent adventure with terrible presentation. It is several pages of dense text hiding the important details, sett up as a railroad. I essentially ended up gutting it during play, since it was so incomprehensible. And it turned out great! I fumbled my way through the adventure, using half-remembered snippets and the stat blocks, and it was completely successful at scaring the players. Which would make Jacob’s Well a great two-page dungeon.

    Now that I look back on them, I find that the value of these adventures lies more in the situations they set up than the actual way they try to hammer them into full adventures. This seems to be a product of the time, maybe also Dungeon’s editing policies. For the 90s, the decade of bad adventure design, they were some of the best I had access to.

    Moving Day is another example of this. Pretty sure it is full of issues if it is completely digested and obeyed to the letter. But reduced to its components and reassembled as we went, it ended up defining a large part of our big 2e campaign. Malvent Horatio the Blackcloak, the primary antagonist, even went on to become the party’s nemesis, wrecking their plans, killing off their loved ones, and getting away with it despite their best efforts. Getting a boat full of dangerous magical products, trying to buy and sell more of the same to make money, and fighting off various bad guys while sailing along a great river is a story that writes itself (WFRP’s Death on the Reik is another example, although the railroad there is easier to derail).

    Dungeon’s mistake was trying to tell that story for the GM. Yours is discounting the possibility of the story emerging in spite of Dungeon’s best efforts. Certainly, today we would write up this adventure as a sandbox scenario, with modular antagonists and encounters. But just because that is our dominant paradigm doesn’t mean people wouldn’t run good adventures with a less efficiently presented scenario. Moving Day is an invitation to engage in dangerous and lucrative hijinks on a river journey, and I am sure four groups out of five would turn it into a great playing experience. Would they end up destroying the exact story Dungeon wanted to tell? Yes. But is that really such a great problem?

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      How many dicks did you have to suck to get the money for your heroin? That’s the point.

      I think we agree on the general principal but perhaps you’re conflating separate issues.

      Your argument is, essentially, “a good DM could …” or, perhaps, “we had fun playing it.” That’s not the point. With those two arguments you demolish any attempt at critical thought about published adventures. The rebuttal to every point is/could be “a good DM could …”

      Back to being an assistant crack whore trainee. You sit in your car for a two hour commute every day? Put up with a shitty boss? Work 9-5 with leftover turkey casserole for lunch? You saved up your lunch money all week, going somewhat hungry each day? All so you can go to the game shop and buy Starry Eyed Wonder And Hope. How much work went in to affording the product you then have to work at to get Fun out of? We MUST demand better.

      Inspiration for an adventure can be taken from many sources: Fantasy novels, non-fiction, film & tv, real life. Even Dungeon Magazine adventures can provide inspiration for a decent adventure. My reviews of Dungeon point out the issues (for others to learn from), highlight adventures that can be used pretty much as is (which is supposed to the point of you paying money for it), and note others that have good ideas that you can rip off — inspiring you to run your own.

      This is the true point of my “Clickbait – I write an adventure” blog post.

      There’s a lot of Ed Wood in this hobby. We see wonder. We are desperate, as consumers, to experience it. The good is SUCH a high that we tolerate the mediocre, or worse, just to get a remembered taste of it. The same goes for many designers/writers. I’m positive they have a vision and see the world as Wood say his movies. But, as Ed did, they fail to effectively translate that wonder to the DM. And yet we still pay $20 a pop for it.

      • Anonymous says:

        Whilst you are quite right to demand superior product, the discussion about whether there is an interesting idea ripe for exploitation, a map that could be used, an encounter that could be slipped into another adventure, etc, is surely a useful one. And if an issue of Dungeon has plenty of such material, that makes it valuable for providing good gaming. If I have correctly recognized the username, Melan is a very talented author; however we can all draw inspiration from such material.

        Please keep the reviews (of products old and new) coming: they are a good read, and very helpful when thinking of making a purchase.

        • Bryce Lynch says:

          Once upon a time I was in a basement in a telco facility terminating four live 100amp DC power circuits. I needed a ladder to get about 1 foot higher to complete the work in the window. I took out my laptop, opened it, turned it on it’s side, and used it. If you buy a stepladder you expect a stepladder and not a laptop.

          Inspiration can come from many sources. Dungeon is one of those places. But that’s not the purpose of Dungeon. Which is why I’m hard on Dungeon.

  2. Gus L says:

    So having read through 43 some Dungeons – can you pinpoint the time when TSR/WOTC decided adventures must be linear snooze fests with magic as technology?

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      I’m not sure. There’s been an undercurrent for awhile now. I know some people like it and I chalk it to one of those personal preference things, like fairies/folklore/gonzo.

      I would note, however, that appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The last several (meaning reviews you’ve not seen yet) have shown a clear improvement in Things Worth Running Or Stealing.

  3. Last Bus to Dwimmermount says:

    Google Docs? Where are Bryce’s signature typos? It’s not the same without them!

    • Camila Acolide says:

      Ahahahaha! I came here to say exactly the opposite! I loved the cleaner and easier to read review, without losing the characteristic feeling they’re known for. Bryce, you’re in a bind now!

  4. Rick Stump says:

    I took Into the Silver Realm and modded the bejeebers out of it and made it part of a 7 year campaign. I slapped Jacob’s Well on the edge of a map and had it as background color for 2 years before I had a paladin stuck there in winter.

  5. JD says:

    Now I’m tempted to create an NPC named “Tom of Magic.” Maybe it will be Tim the Enchanter’s cousin, or uncle, or some such. Hmm, it’s got me a thinkin’ 😉

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