This is actually a review of issues four and five of Dyson’s Dodecahedron, and more specifically, of the Erdea Manor dungeon that is spread out between the two issues. The dungeon has four levels with about ninety rooms total. It’s an inconsistent effort, with the upper levels being more interesting and better than the lower levels. It reminds me a lot of my favorite dungeon, Level 1 of The Darkness Beneath, without the “effortlessly interesting rooms” that TDB has.
The ruins of an old manor sit on a hillside. And inside are four chaotic levels of factions and six different groups that feels much more static then the implies it should. Dwarves are hanging around, trying to wait out a siege of ogres that have recently moved in. The ogres have a rogue member who is out for himself. The old members of the family that owned the manor are hanging around in the basements, with, maybe, four different factions. There are vermin galore and a few other humanoids that have wandered in. And yet … it feels more static than that would imply. The dwarves are locked in a room and have no interest in leaving. There’s a bit of a Monty Python/French Knights thing you could do with this, but it’s not really interactive. Likewise the ogres … the intra-ogre conflict is not really a highlight or enabled very well. The three or four factions of the family in the lower levels are also not really … interesting? People, fish-people, and bull-people are presented as branches (As well as undead) but no real reference to their interactions, cooperation, or how they react to the parties intrusions.
The details for the monsters, and for many of the rooms, come off instead as window dressing, or maybe fondant. It looks nice but it doesn’t really contribute very well to core mission. Rather than enabling creative play it comes off mostly as trivia. The springboard to adventure is lost. Individually some of the rooms are quite nice. Gnolls displaced by cave bears who is eating one of their comrades in the next room. Goats hanging on hooks on the walls, or an ogre making dwarf-bone bread. There’s something missing here. Some kind of potential energy, a wound spring waiting to be released.
The treasure is mostly a miss on the hit and miss scale. Highlights are a pair of ceremonial platinum axes and a golden beard-clasp. That’s quite nice. But most of the treasure ends up in the “silver necklace” or “+1 spear” category of treasure.
The maps are what you would expect. They have a lot of nice features, stairs up & down, multiple ways into and out of the dungeon, a good mix of dungeon features. They remind me a lot of the Rappan Athuk levels; individually they can be a bit small but if viewed as a cross-section they get much more interesting.
There’s a good example of the room types in an old meeting room. On the wall is a portrait, almost completely faded. If you raise a toast to the person in the portrait then something happens. But there’s no clue that this is an option. As presented it’s just trivia. If it were a dinner party, with the figure prominent and everyone around him raising a toast to him? Sure, then there’s a clue. The room as written needs just a bit more to give it a push. To turn it from trivia to potential energy.
Erde Manor needs a good polish edit.
This is available on DriveThru.