AA#15 – Stonesky Delve

Please continue to read after the following statement: Stonesky Delve was a 2010 GenCon tournament module. ‘Tournament Module’ usually means a standard linear affair with a few puzzles thrown in and/or a funhouse feel. There are certain things a tournament module has to do, like provide a fair environment for testing all of the different groups, and that’s how they usually do it. Stonesky does things a bit differently though, which is quite refreshing. Instead of a standard ‘make it to the end’ sort of hook, this time the party will be exploring a newly found cave complex. Points are awarded for exploring and brining back information that the parties sponsors would find interesting. This all works in this module because … it’s modeled on real cave exploration.

It seems that some dwarves have found a new natural cave system that they believe may connect to their ancient ancestral home. They hire the PC’s to investigate and map out the complex for them. The cave complex is a 3d affair; there are shafts up, side corridors that branch off of the upper levels of caverns chambers, hundreds of feet off the ground. Streams run through the cavern and plunge down waterfall shafts. The cave system is given two maps: one is a traditional 2d map layout while the second is a full 8.5×11 cross-section of the same complex showing the vertical arrangement of the various chambers & rooms. This gives the entire complex a much more realistic feel and adds a whole new slew of encounter options: spelunking! Ice cold rivers, darkness everywhere, pitons and ropes abound! It reminds me a lot of an adventure in Dungeon magazine that featured a natural cave complex that’s hit with a massive earthquake halfway through, forcing the PC’s to ascend and descend and deal with rubble etc. I loved that adventure and I love this one for the same reason. To quote Spock: “His tactics are … 2-dimentional …” I hope the PC’s aren’t, because if so they re going to loose a lot of points and have a rough time with combat while they ascend & descend.

The ecosystem in these natural caverns seems real. A horde of bats is what clued the dwarves in to the complexes existence, and their theme runs throughout the cavern section. Lots and lots of vermin-like creatures feed on the bats, which again lends to the feel of this being a real place. In fact, I’m imaging a real complex complex as I write this and I’m sure your PC’s will also, which will certainly lead to a different feel than a ‘normal’ dungeon complex. Anyway, you certainly get the feeling from the text that actions have consequences. Damn up the stream and someone deeper in will notice. Low-level magic from the stream has, over time, created some mud med from the dirt in the complex. Some creatures are well-fed on the bats and this will ignore the party. All of this makes for a much more interesting feel than ‘Horde of goblins. 1/2 HD.” There are a couple of touches of the fantastic as well. Several of the areas are related to dwarven creation myths and the various aspects of these chambers are unusual, mysterious, and fairly interesting. They are generic enough that they could probably fit in to almost all campaigns, but specific enough to add the flavor needed to spice things up. For example, the voice of the dwarven god, from the beginning of time, still echos in one of the chambers.

The second party of the module, tournament modules always need a second round, details a small portion of an ancient dwarven city that the caves connect to. This is a much more typical dungeon crawl, but again there is a significant amount of flavor provided with a minimal amount of text. Tricks & traps from the old dwarven occupants intertwine with the fate of the former inhabitants and the invaders which destroyed them. All the while the chief villain of this portion lurks about the complex waiting to strike. This section is again heavy on vermin, which I really appreciate. There’s a strong feeling conveyed of this being an abandoned complex, not with vermin, and an intelligent creature now occupying and pushing in to the space. A living, breathing dungeon is a much more interesting place then dusty old static tomb.

In my reviews I mostly just want to communicate the module; what it’s about and how it feels so others can make an informed decision before they buy. I usually have to reach deep to find something nice to say about about the modules I’m reviewing. Sometimes I don’t, and this is one of those cases. It’s initial layout is unusual and different enough to be worth the price while the second half adds a nicely done above-average small dungeon. Both sections have a nice ‘natural’ feel to them and have lots of mysterious goings-on for the PCs to wonder about, without being a pain in their ass. There are five new monsters and three new magic items to confound the PC’s with. The new magic items have a touch of the ‘weird’ to them, which I prefer. It would have been nice to see this carried on with the non-new magic items found in the module. I’m adding this to my Things in the Valley, Hex Crawls, and ASE1 shelf as a keeper.

This is available on DriveThru.


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