The Citadel casts a dark shadow from it’s mountain. Can you find a path to the top and rescue your kinfolk?
This is, I think, a one page, that I’m not sure how I ended up with. There’s a certain amount of performance art that goes along with one-page dungeons. “See what you can do in just one page!” You can certainly do a lot in one page, this adventure proves that. And you can do a lot more in two pages. This is, in essence, an artificial constraint on the review. For what this is, a one page dungeon, it is quite good.
It’s in four parts: a cave complex level, a crypt level, a small basement dungeon, and a couple of rooms for a the castle. Twenty nine rooms and four maps is a pretty record for one page, especially given the amount of text for each room. It’s quite the accomplishment and points out just how much bloat there is in most adventures. The jerk-faced jerks who think I want everything spoon-fed to me should instead take a look at this. Focus is what this adventure brings. Classic tropes. I want to point out that the dungeon rooms do what they should. This is HUGE. I think I first time I remember seeing this was in some Raggi thing, although the classic “if you clean up the defiled shrine then you are rewarded” thing is a relative. For example, if you light a candle in the deserted shrine then you are rewarded. Players LUV it when logic works in the dungeon. They get a sense of accomplishment. Of figuring things out. And that’s a Martha Stewart Good Thing.
The first room is “Entrance cave – Illuminating this large natural cave is the lantern from two gnomes looking for their lost companion.” That’s pretty minimal. It’s also pretty evocative. A cave. Shadowy lantern light making strange shapes on the walls. Whispering in the darkness. Two weirdo’s on a mission. Tentative? Combined with desperation? So much is implied, inspired, by the description given. This is the power of the minimal, but evocative, description. It’s not 3 paragraphs long with reactions for everything under the sun. It sets the scene and gives the DM’s imagination a good SHOVE in the right direction. Similarly, room 3 is “Pool Room – This room is lit by a dim red glow from 3 fire beetles on the walls. A Blessing pool contains 12 coins.” Again, focus. Inspiring. Adjectives, adverbs, effects without exposition. And it works the way you think it should. A pool? With coins in it? Well you should throw a coin in it of course … especially in a Level One adventure.
As a basic adventure I think this succeeds quite well. It reminds me a bit of the best parts of the Caves of Chaos. Minimal room descriptions, but with some interesting content.
And because I am a dick, I’ll offer some advice for improvement. This is going to be more nit-picky than I would usually be, but not, I think, uncalled for in a one-pager. It is, in some places redundant. In only one page that can be a missed opportunity. For example, room 5 is: “5. Yellow Mist – a thick yellow mist clings to the ground here. Characters have a 2 in 6 chance of falling in hidden pit.” That’s twice we’re told there’s a yellow mist. Naming the room something else would allow even more imagination. “5. Guano Filled – a thick yellow mist clings to the ground here. Characters have a 2 in 6 chance of falling in hidden pit.” Now we know an additional fact about the room. I’m not suggesting that guano-filled is the way to go, but I would assert that SOMETHING else is the way to go.
There’s also a room or two that is … wasted? “Antechamber – This room is magically silent. These doors are heavy and require an Open Doors check.” Antechamber is not very descriptive. The room being magically silent is wasted because it plays no part. There’s no impact to it being silent. Because of this it’s more window dressing, and thus wasted. Nothing nearby that the silence impacts, noting in the room that the silence impacts. Maybe something like “Unearthly Silence – Highly vaulted. These doors are heavy and require and open doors check.”
Finally, in just one page you’re not getting much in the way of great monster, magic, or mundane treasure descriptions. Thems the breaks … and points out the limitations of the one page format.
This is a classic adventure. I like the classics. If everything published were at least this good I’d be a happy man. All in one page. Reading this, and then going back to look at one of the new 5e WOTC adventures really points out the difference in styles. The bloat present in the WOTC products that adds little to the adventure becomes glaring.
Print this and stick it in your B copy of B/X and you’re ready to go.
This is available on DriveThru.