Dungeon Magazine #116

Palace of the Twisted King
By Phillip Larwood
Level 5

Three encounters in an abandoned desert waypost with five menlocks. They do hit & run tactics on the party. It’s trying to create a creepy vibe, and has some decent suggestions for doing so. Some charcoal drawing, nver over a few feet high. Small bits of bone, gnawed upon. Asking for listen or spot checks. Taking a player in to another room just to tell them something innocuous, like they found a gold coin or some such. There’s a dc30 spot check that needs to be made on the EXACT square of trapdoor, which is a little ludicrous. (Maybe not? I don’t remember how large spot checks get at level 5 in 3e.) I’m not a big fan of the hit&run stuff from the dimension door abilities … I’m perhaps too damaged by adversarial DM tactics. The major problem, as always, is the length. It goes on about history and background ad nauseum. Oh, the caravans used to get their water from the well? Never would have imagined that! The effect is to hide the actually relevant details. The well has ID Moss in the side … which i buried in the middle of a long paragraph. Then there is the arbitrary crap. That loose flagstone, hidden by the DC30 spot check? It can’t be removed from the top. It’s not locked or anything. It just can’t be removed. What? Seriously? Again, this raises the Suspension of Disbelief issue, which, when in an obstacle, raises the spectre of the adversarial DM. There’s some german film, Funny Games, where one of the asshats, torturing a couple in their home, is killed. His buddy shouts “No!” and then rewinds the film and does something so it won’t happen. Bad DM! But, anyway, there IS some nice advice given about creepiness, although pacing could use a few words also. I just wish it weren’t buried by the immense amount of irrelevant text. In spite of the advice, I just don’t think this one has enough going for it to make it worth it.

Death of Lashmire
Psionic Heavy
By Tim Hitchcock
Level 12

Bob the psionic is in his lair when it’s attacked by some Gith looking to get a silver sword back. The party stumbles in for some lame pretext. There’s no point. It’s like watching a movie. I guess you could help one side or another. But why? ALso, some Gith attack and enslave you if you surrender/talk to them when they ask you to. What’s the odds the SECOND group of Gith, the ones who WILL negotiate, will be met with anything but a fireball?

By Christopher Perkins
Level 19

Adventure Path! The last one, thank god. The party travels to hell to kill the demon prince you controlled the cagewrights. There’s really not much content here. Undead beholder attacks. You go to hell. Find a trading city (which is the most boring place on any plane, ever) and find a hag citadel who knows where the demon prince is. The hag is a little interesting. The demon prince stronghold is a prison. It’s just ten or eleven rooms stuffed with monsters to fight and various gimps, like tar slime on the floors, no teleport or stone shape on the walls, etc. For some inexplicable reason you get a deva to go along with you at the start. Worst. Reason.Ever. to give up your deva-hood and fall? Helping the party in a Chris Perkins adventure.

This issue published their “experts” take on the 30 best adventures. Here’s my thoughts on their choices, all from my (failing) memory …

30. Ghost Tower of Inverness
A nice tourny dungeon, but little to offer otherwise. Cook slams it as “cliche’d” Fuck you. I like the classics. They are classics for a reason.

29. The Assassin’s Knot
Don’t know notin bout this.

28. The Lost City
Don’t know notin bout this … EXCEPT, it’s got an adventurers “quick pack” reference sheet in it. I photocopy the FUCK out of it. It’s one of my standard handouts at tables, both home and when running at a con. “Pick a character and a backpack A, B, or C and let’s GO!”

27. The Sinister Secret of Slatmarsh
I shall admit to having fond memories of this Scooby Doo adventure. I might do back and review this one day to see if my memory, which tells me its terse and full of classic stuff, is correct.

26. City of Skulls
Don’t know notin bout this.

25. Dragons of Despair
All I remember liking the isometric map and being absolutely and totally confused about the beginning of this. In retrospect, I wonder if I didn’t understand you were supposed to use the pregens?

24. City of the Spider Queen
Don’t know notin bout this.

23. Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun
I recall this as being VERY minimally keyed. Two adventures, really, or three if you count the wilderness. I always felt like there was something special to this but I never discovered what it was.

22. The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
Monster Zoo, shoving as much shit together as possible. A guilty pleasure.

21. Dark Tower
I like Dark Tower. I like Thracia more.

20. Scourge of the Slave Lords
I remember this as super linear and you starting as slaves, escaping? Both of which could be ok for a con/tourny game … but not otherwise. Make the SuperAdventure changes that?

19. Against the Cult of the Reptile God
I LUV the village in this; it’s a lot of fun to run if the everyone is hyperbolic. I recall also the dungeon being nothing special, except for the wet dungeon atmosphere?

18. The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
Linear tourny dungeon is linear tourney dungeon? I’m not sure why these keep making the Best Of lists. They serve a very small niche.

17. Ruins of the Undermountain
Don’t know notin bout this.

16. Isle of Dread
Absurd amounts of content. You could set a large amount of your campaign here, if you were good enough to get past the repetitive parts.

15. Castle Amber
The teleporter/realms end of this never clicked with me. The entre things needs a bit of buffing up to set the mood correctly for encounters.

14. Dead Gods
Don’t know notin bout this.

13. Dwellers of the Forbidden City
Don’t know notin bout this.

12. Forge of Fury
Don’t know notin bout this. But I do have a hard time believing a 3e adventure is good. It was debut adventure also, wasn’t it?

11. Gates of Firestorm Peak.
Don’t know notin bout this.

10. Return to the Tomb of Horrors
Don’t know notin bout this.

9. White Plume Mountain
Look, I like tourney/con games. But the 30 best?

8. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil
I seem to recall owning this. I don’t seem to recall getting in to it?

7. Keep on the Borderlands
Terse, thy name is B2. All the best and worst from Gygax. Fond memories, and a decent DM can do things with it.

6. Desert of Desolation
Don’t know notin bout this.


4. Temple of Elemental Evil
Don’t know notin bout this.

3. Tomb of Horror
Fuck you and die. The world would be a better place if this had never been published. It has generated a culture of adversarial DM’ing.

2. Ravenloft
I just finished Curse of Strahd, and don’t recall much from the original.

1.GDQ/Queen of Spiders
Uh … No. I think GDQ is a mess, with two exceptions. 1) G1 is one of the finest modules ever written. 2) I love the wanderers tables in all of the D modules; Freaky Deaky shit right there!

Of those thirty the only one I’m sure of is G1. It can still hang with the best of today. I’d love to include Barrier Peaks, but I question if my love of it is just nostalgia. Dark Tower MIGHT be able to hang, as could Thracia. Both would be strong Also Rans if they didn’t make my Top 30 list.

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31 Responses to Dungeon Magazine #116

  1. Chimerical says:

    Lost City is good, reminiscent of the Conan “Red Nails” story. Ravenloft is pretty good, it’s mostly just a dungeon – very nice map. Most of the others are not worth checking out.

    Tomb of Horrors is quite fun, I think. Why you think it set such a bad precedent? By which I mean, what makes you think the adversarial DMing wouldn’t have happened all the same without it?

    • John says:

      Because he is projecting his faults on others.

      S2 was written (for the first Origins convention, in 1975) to challenge super-powerful characters, as well as very-experienced PLAYERS.

      Having played through S2, it’s not all that hard, if you are careful. (We made it with no deaths, two slightly-injured characters, and Acererack destroyed.)

      And, of course, it is mentioned in “Ready, Player One”.

      C2 was also written as a tournament module (all the “C” modules were), originally written for WIntercon VII. (It also got Allen Hammack hired by TSR.)

  2. Are there any old adventures that jump out of your memory that didn’t make the list? Besides Thracia, I agree it rocks.,

    • John says:

      I think one of the better ones left out was actually published in Dungeon: Wolfgang Baur’s epic “Kingdom of the Ghouls”.

      • Dan says:

        ‘Kingdom of the Ghouls’ is superb, as is ‘The Mud Sorcerers Tomb’. ‘Iron Orb of the Duergar’, and ‘Prism Keep’ are also pretty good Dungeon adventures but I think the above top-30 list only includes official published adventures.

        Roger Moore’s ‘Baba Yaga’s Hut’ from Dragon is also pretty sweet from memory.

        …Ghouls is definitely my favourite of the Dungeon adventures. If we’re including those, it would make my top 10 for sure.

    • Anonymous says:

      The TSR UK group of Morris, Bambra and co-workers deserve more representation. I would include B10 Night’s Dark Terror. The list could do with more non-TSR adventures:
      the already mentioned Caverns of Thracia would be an excellent addition, but I would also include the Halls of Tizun Thane from White Dwarf magazine, possibly also the Lost Abbey of Calthonwey. I have never owned Starstone (generic stats but easily converted), but it has garnered many glowing reviews.2E was much better for settings than adventures, but Night Below might deserve a place in the list. If I was asked to include a Dungeon adventure, the Ghost of Mistmoor is a good one.
      The list seems to have too many “supermodules” (compilations). Regarding GDQ1-7, I would certainly put G3 and D3 in the list, but not Q1 (excellent map but the rest is not so good). Moreover the bonus material in the supermodules seemed to be mostly heavy-handed railroading.

  3. kim says:

    funny games is basically a send off of torture porn genre

  4. Beoric says:

    Scourge of the Slave Lords was a compilation of A1-4, which were all former tournament modules that were expanded before publication. The compilation adds some transitional material. The “escaped slaves” bit was actually in reference to A4. If you beat A3, you are captured off camera before the beginning of A4 and dropped in a dungeon unsupervised without any of your gear.

    • Krebizfan says:

      Scourge of the Slave Lords gets the PCs captured twice. In the beginning section, they are captured on page 19 but permitted to escape and regain their equipment a few pages later when the PCs arrive at the start of A1. Then, after the end of A3, the PCs get captured again and play out A4 for their second escape.

      I drop the section with the slave ship; it makes the Slave Lords seem stupid. It is also unnecessary since the PCs were heading towards Highport in preparation for A1 at the time they are initially scheduled for capture.

      If run as part of a campaign, many DMs will play out the fight at the end of A3. The PCs will be over matched and almost certainly killed or captured. Having the PCs be resurrected in order to be interrogated has generated few complaints in my experience.

  5. Dan says:

    Yeah, this list is a complete piece of shit. Conflating GDQ into one module (even if TSR did later package them together into a ‘supermodule’ for extra cash) is just lazy business.

    For my money, Dark Tower and Caverns of Thracia should both be in the top ten, as should Dwellers of the Forbidden City and all the modules by Tom Moldvay (The Lost City, Castle Amber, Isle of Dread, Secret of the Slavers Stockade). G1 should be in there, as should D2 with the caveat that it’s probably more of a supplement than an adventure, but this is Gygax at his imaginative best and it gets the nod for sheers atmospheric writing alone.
    Finally, although it’s not to my personal taste, Ravenloft should probably be in there although I’m partial to N1, so I think it’s a tie for the last slot.

    Although I own S3, I’ve never run or played it so I’ll have to reserve judgement till later.

    B4 ‘The Lost City’ gets my vote as the greatest old school module, with the caveat that it was the first published adventure I ever owned and has significant sentimental value. All that aside, I ran it for my group a couple of years back and it was an easy ‘career highlight’. Whilst it’s based on the REH story ‘Red Nails’, it’s got more of a Clark Ashton Smith/Lovecraftian vibe, and contains all the material for an phantasmagoric, opium-dream epic campaign.

    Additionally, there are far too many tournament modules in this top-30 list for my liking. I think A2 is the only shoe-in, with possibly Tamoachan bringing up the rear of the list.

    Most overrated modules are Tomb of Horror and Temple of Elemental Evil. The first is nonsense and the second is the only published module that we ever canned as players due boredom. The Hommlet component is good (although I believe you’re not a fan Bryce) but the temple proper is just a combat grind-fest, with room after room of boring humanoid encounters. When I later read through the module as a DM I was similarly bored and shelved it.

  6. Gus L says:

    Dwellers of the Forbidden City is good. It’s got like a little cave with Yaun-Ti (introducing them I believe) and Tasloi throwing poison spears from the jungle canopy. Then a crumbled city crawl and some other stuff within. I hits a kinda snakemen and jungle nonsense explore the lost city vibe that I could totally use in ASE for someplace in the jungles way south of Denethix. It’s got normal AD&D nonsense but a lot of heart.

    Desert of Desolation is more Hickman forced morality railroad but with a Egyptian gloss. Where it fails (you can overlook that stuff in Ravenloft or even Dragons of Despair) is that it has a really boring take on Egyptian stuff. Like all the treasure is coins – the mummies tomb has X,000 GP in it (presumably already rolled up in those cardboard coin tubes) and similar dull as heck nonsense.

  7. Forge of Fury is surprisingly good for a 3e adventure. And Dwellers of the Forbidden City is pretty awesome. Rescue mission in a ruined jungle city with factions, and once you’re within, better think about switching from brute force to stealth and disguise.

  8. City of Skulls is an infiltration/rescue mission in the capital city of Iuz the Evil. I remember liking the mechanism tracking your notoriety and the escalating alert status ah la Grand Theft Auto.

    Return of the Tomb of Horrors is Cordell’s magnum opus and it kicks ass. They took out a lot of the dickishness, kept the lethality, and added roleplaying, flavour, more awesome, and an epic showdown where you have to hit a thing to prevent a thing from happening (See also Bruce Cordell adventure element #21).

  9. Whoah, whoah.

    Tamoachan is a thing of beauty. As an initial matter, the map is not linear – at all. https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=lost+shrine+of+tamoachan+map&view=detailv2&&id=B4C620104D706100EDC24DAD401AFDDBFD2C0B97&selectedIndex=1&ccid=dhog2hfe&simid=608053794306133737&thid=OIP.M761a20da17defefe0a2a82752c4416fao0&ajaxhist=0

    Second, this module showcases non-Western tropes, locales and mythology; it features all non-standard monsters and unique magic items. Non of this new-fangled “reskinning;” every encounter was unique, and this was 1979! This is the infancy of AD&D and Johnson and Leason were paving a path that wouldn’t be picked up again for thirty years.

    Did I mention the first encounter is with a talking hermit crab?

    This one deserves a fresh look; I cannot sign its praises enough.

    • Dan says:

      Hey John I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you about some of your published material, what’s the best way for me to send you a PM?

      Incidentally, if I was to postulate a ‘top 30 adventures of all time’ your outstanding ‘Red Tam’s Bones’ would definitely be in there.


    • Melan says:

      Indeed; Tamoachan is one of the best adventures ever produced for D&D. It makes thematic sense, passes the “is this realistic on a glance?” test, all the while delivering a unique premise and fascinating, imaginative dungeon encounters. That’s before we even add the illustration booklet.

      I have run this module multiple times for very different players, and it was always a hoot.

      • Bryce Lynch says:

        Are you two sure it’s not linear? It’s been a long time since I looked at it, but I had a pretty clear memory of it being, essentially, a straight-line “escape before the poison gas timer gets you” tourny adventure.

        • The map is very “loopy,” on the first two levels, multiple ways to get to places. The top tiers (it’s a step pyramid) are tiny.

        • Melan says:

          It is mostly linear with forks and detours (which can kill you if you linger too long). It is all the other stuff that makes it so great.

          The poison gas is part of it; it inverts the dungeon experience and introduces a sense of urgency. Players love it; after the initial description, there is this “Oooooooh SHIT” realisation that’s priceless.

          Where Tomb of Horrors is a slightly arbitrary *SQUASH* dungeon (of which D&D needed one but not two) where you have to bypass a lot of the game routines to survive, Tamoachan is the slow killer where interpreting environmental clues, choosing your battles and thinking on your feet is the key to survival. Few things will kill you outright (e.g. only the lower tiers are flooded by the infamous poison gas), but you can get weakened to the degree that later encounters become increasingly deadly. You can win several encounters in a row but lose the war of attrition, expiring on the threshold while loaded down with precious treasures.

        • Fiasco says:

          Tamoachan is amazing. Ran it 3 times to great effect. They key is to run it like a tournament module. 2-3 hours tops and deduct hp every 10 minutes of realtime.

          As others have said it’s not strictly linear and there are different paths out. Clever play is rewarded and it prevents a great variety of challenges.

  10. Hi: send me a message at gnarleybones@dragonsfoot.org

    Thank you for the kind words!

  11. Kent says:

    I have been advising you for years to review the old original modules and judging from the scale of response in the comments to your cut-n-paste of an irrelevant magazine’s list I was right. But why don’t you continue to review material that no one gives a shit about if it soothes your autism.

    The best of modules are:
    WG4 Tharizdun; D2; Dark Tower; Caverns of Thracia; Night of the Walking Wet; Embertrees & Starstone; G2 has an outstanding map given the environment; My favourite first day intro is B5 for under 12s and The Beholder Contracts for grown ups.

    I can only describe the extent of your persistent reviews of latter day material (crud) as perverse (at my kindest) and insane (if I am honest).

  12. Bryce Lynch says:


    It’s quite unlikely that I will engage in reviews of older TSR adventures. You are absolutely correct that discussion of the older material generates more comments, interaction, and drives website traffic. There are lots of places to discuss the old TSR adventures. Every forum. Almost every blog.

    Let’s celebrate the new instead of continually revisiting the old. Every time you buy G2 on DriveThru the Hasbro MegaCorp kills another kitten and a small publisher/designer quits, being starved out by nostalgia.

    The best of the OSR generally totally eclipses most of the older content. Only a couple of TSR adventures and a few old indies can hang with the new kids. Let’s look at those, engage with them, and celebrate them. And lets look at the shit that don’t work and learn from them.

    I’m gonna split off a topic over on G+ to talk more about this.

  13. Amethal says:

    Bryce is (obviously) going to review whatever the heck he wants to review, and good luck to him.

    However, I have bought half a dozen adventures I hadn’t even heard of until I read his reviews, and I haven’t regretted any of them. I don’t want or need reviews of old TSR products, and if I did, there are plenty of other places I could find them.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have also bought material on the basis of Bryce’s reviews, so he is certainly performing a service. Regarding the classics of B/X and 1E, there are lots of very good reviews on Dragonsfoot, including a superb one of B10 Night’s Dark Terror by someone who I believe has contributed to this thread. Whilst excellent modules are being written all the time, I do think the B/X and 1E era had a particularly high diamonds to dregs ratio.
      Where I would agree with Bryce is that there is no need to roll out B2 for the nth time when you could use one of the nice similar OSR offerings instead. The Beast that Waits (3 Sages Games, rpgnow) seems a strong one that I don’t believe Bryce has reviewed yet.
      The Dungeon reviews are valuable in that this is the first review I have seen for many of the issues. Bryce does have his biases, but there are often comments from those who played the adventures.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I have also bought a ton of material thanks to Bryce’s excellent reviews. This website actually introduced me to the OSR when I was looking into reviews of Dungeon Magazine and the OSR movement revitalized my love for the hobby. So, thanks Bryce! I hope you keep up the reviews, especially the Dungeon Magazine reviews. I’m rooting for you to finish them without permanent sanity loss.

  15. Prashant says:

    It’s asbsolutely because of Bryce that I am running one of the best campaigns ever. Deep Carbon Observatory came my way because of Bryce and it has been months of awesome gaming from a small module that is not bloated with text but filled with content. it’s also because of Bryce that I have come upon not just great products like Vorheim, but also all of the great Blogs out there. Patrick Stuart’s take on the underdark alone has been worth more to me than anything ever published by Gygax.

  16. Makofan says:

    B4 – The Lost City is my favourite of all the old B-modules. You need the original version that details the city underneath though.

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