Dungeon Magazine #126

Encounter at Blackwall Keep
By Sean K Reynolds
Level 5

Part three of Age of Worms adventure path. The pretext is escorting a wizard to see his friend at a keep. Getting there, it’s under attack by lizardmen. Breaking the siege you go to their lair and kill lizardmen, along with their minion harpies, kobolds, and anything else they could throw in. Coming back to the keep they find a creature in the basement is active, killing some of the remaining soldiers. The wandering table, on the way to the keep, is a cut above. Only one fight is prescribed … and even then maybe not forced. They focus too much on mechanics instead of evocative travellers, but, at least it’s something. There is an INSANE amount of text in this adventure, from the read-aloud to the DM notes. And EVERYTHING is all mixed up, with no rhyme or reason as to how information is organized in the DMs sections. The amount of crud you have to wade through in order to pull out data is truly amazing.

The Clockwork Fortress
By Wolfgang Baur
Level 8

Clockwork dude contacts party to get them to clean out his mobile fortress, full of derro and chaos. It’s full of the usual “pad the word count by explaining things you don’t need to know” that makes wading through, and using, Dungeon adventures so hard. I’m reproducing one section at the end of the review as an example. There’s really not much to the adventure. Just rooms with monsters in it to fight, along with a few gear-based traps and obstacles. To its credit, there ARE a few things that are not hostile, in essence a second faction to the fortress. It’s too bad Baur stooped to something like this, I assume, to get paid.

Blood of Malar
By Eric L. Boyd
Level 13

“Vampires of Waterdeep, Part One” is how this is touted … Vampire lady shows up in a bar and proclaims a young nobleman the target of “the hunt”. A bunch of patrons transform in to werewolves (who are themselves vampires) Noble runs away, werewolf vampire people give chase. The party, for some reason, gives a shit? There’s some subterfuge, and a hidden goal, but it’s all buried in some Forgotten Realms simulationist exposition that borders on fetishism. Full of names that only a fuckwit obsessed with the forgotten realms could love. “Headmistress Dhusarra yr Fadila el Abhuk”, “Lord Orlpar Husteem”, “Noreyth Harpell”,

The Menagerie
By B. Matthew Conklin III
Level 6

Some monsters (cockatrice, darkmantle, rust monster, etc) have escaped inside a shop. Four rooms, a different monster fight in each room, designed to be chaotic. Rust monsters in the dark of the mantle, cockatrice/chickens in a room full of shelves, etc.

Example Time!
Here is one paragraph from the text of the Clockwork Fortress/Baur adventure. Note the extreme use of explaining WHY and HOW that add nothing to the adventure.

Creatures: The waters of the moat that surround the Clockwork Fortress are surprisingly warm, heated by the inner workings of the fortress furnace. A dozen killer frogs (originally taken from Blackmoor) dwell in these waters. The frogs generally prey on wildlife in the surrounding region, and of late have caught more than a few derro as well. Rather than exterminate the frogs, the derro decided to give them a wide berth, figuring that they’d add a welcome layer of security to their operation. The frogs don’t attack anyone who crosses the drawbridge, but anyone who approaches within 5 feet of the moat’s edge (or enters the water) attracts the attention of 1d4 frogs. Killer frogs are pony-sized amphibians with long needle-like teeth that protrude from their jaws even when they’re closed. They also have long hook-like talons on their webbed hands and feet. Killer frogs (12): hp 34 each; see appendix.

Do we care why the water are warm or where the frogs came from of why they are there? No. The entire thing would be improved by simply stating (and remember, I’m a suck -ass writer!)

1d4 killer frogs attack any near/in the water, except people crossing the bridge. They have long needle-like teeth protruding from their jaws and long hook-like talons on their webbed hands & feet.

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6 Responses to Dungeon Magazine #126

  1. Krebizfan says:

    I like the detail of the water being warm. It is one of the few clues that certain protection spells should be cast. That form of foreshadowing is one of the ways a module is differentiated from a collection of random rooms with monsters to kill.

    I would have preferred that the creatures be something that would only be living there thanks to the artificial hot spring making the temperature anomaly clear. Giant frogs are the signature monster for the Blackmoor region used as frequently as orcs in Mordor. The only surprise would be not seeing giant frogs.

  2. Graham says:

    Thank you for reviewing this. I have just heard that Pazio will be selling back issues of Dungeon magazine through DriveThruRPG, making these reviews a must see.

  3. Jeff Johnson says:

    Thank you for including that example of “word bloat.” Since I am not reading the adventures along with your reviews, I sometimes wonder if I understand what you are talking about.

    I have to agree with Krebizfan. I like the warm water detail. It helps mark this as different than the other bodies of water in the area.

    I also feel you cut too much out for your edit. Which is fine for the notes you use at the table. But less so for a published adventure.

    The frogs in the water have killed some of the derro. Cool, if the players want to search the water they I’ll throw in some loot from some of the generic derro. or at least a couple of derro skulls for decoration.

    Since the frogs had killed some Derro, my DM mind immediately asks why the frogs are still there. If I said there was a group of ogres in the old forest and they have killed several villagers. You expect that the villagers would either be looking for a way to get rid of them or they would have succeeded at doing so. So why are they still there? I recognize that I have only had one player who would ask questions like that. But it is there for DM’s that need it.

    12 frogs live here. That means the players can slaughter them all.

    The frogs come from a different land. This is why the players are not getting attacked by these things at every body of water. It is also the answer to the inevitable knowledge (nature) check that these things will likely invoke in players.

    I feel like you even cut some of the best imagery from the frog’s description. The size. Your edited version makes no mention of the size leaving me with the impression that your version looks like normal frogs with nasty teeth and claws.

  4. Reason says:

    Jeff, you’re explaining. Modules that feel the need to do this for things which are peripheral & not a central crux of the adventure or NPC end up cluttered & bloat.

    What you just did, is EXACTLY what a lightly written, well edited adventure does. Gives you enough that you can riff off it easily WITHOUT cluttering it all up by answering these questions for you in the adventure text (bloat, unlikely to come up, if it does _you riff it, make it up_).

    Example- player wonders why frogs don’t attack ever body of water (simple answer, because we are not playing in DeathFrogDoom land)

    Your answer- they come from far away, lure by an unusually warm current. Fine.

    _but explicitly stating that in the text is unnecessary & in fact counter productive. You came up with it in 5 seconds. And it suits your game.

    _because in my campaign, I might have a frog cult/innsmouth thing going on if the players hang around the wetlands region later.

    _another guy might want to run some sort of humanoid lair (goblin, boggling, bullywig- whatever) & the frogs show up again there.

    So if on the odd chance PC’s ask about them. You throw them YOUR next hook or the villagers just shrug & say, “Whelp, swamps always been full of dangerous frogs, it’s why no one likes to go in the swamp”, normal people don’t go into the forest & try and purge it of wolves back then. Same goes for killer frogs.

    Maybe they set a few traps around the village (cats as bait, they like cats). If PC’s ever ask I can throw that in. Just takes a sec but when getting my head around an adventure I don’t WANT minutiae around random moat dangers. I want the meat & some new ideas. If the PC’s fixate on said random moat danger, THEN I worry about making it up. Life is too short to set up a complete ecology of everything in the game. And its less fun.

    Explaining it in the module _gets in the way_ of the main idea, restricts the links too your own campaign needs by making everything annoying specific & delivers nothing I couldn’t come up with in 30 seconds anyway.

  5. Jeff Johnson says:

    Reason, I understand what you are getting at. Too much detail can slow down your prep and is a waste of mental energy. I do agree that some adventures add too much for a DM to sort through. And I assume that throwing answers out to random questions has always worked for you.

    For myself, I have “painted myself into a corner” doing that before. and I would rather not do it again.

    You said you want the meat of the adventure, some new ideas. It seems like you want to make up the rest as you go. So why read past the adventure summary? Read that much and grab the map. You have the meat of the adventure. You can do a quick skim for new or interesting ideas and make up the rest on the fly.

    If that is what you like, more power to you. But most published works don’t seem to feel they can get away with that.

    Given what was said, I am not sure why you consider the frogs themselves to not be bloat. Why even have a threat in the moat? And if the frogs are bloat, what else is? Do we take out things like, lets say, a goblin that has been forced to cook for the derro as a slave? I mean you could have come up with that in 5 sec during play when you saw the word “kitchen” on the map. We don’t really need more encounters than the derro guards and leader right?

    If the goblin is not listed, how many DMs would think to create him on the fly? How many would loose out on the fun of his interaction with the players? He’s not related to the story. He’s not a new idea. It could be easily argued that he is bloat. Cut the entire encounter.

    As for being too specific, lets say the adventure states the goblin comes from a tribe that likes to snort lightning bugs from the swamp of the fallen god. If you bring the goblin some lightning bugs he automatically becomes friendly. Again, something you could make up in 5 sec. But would you have thought of it? Would most DM’s think of it?

    And of course, you are going to tell me that you would not rift off of “the swamp of the fallen god.” But instead complain that it and the practices of it’s goblins are useless detail.

    Of course, the goblin wouldn’t show up in the adventure summary.

    And if we wrote him in minimalist format it might look like:
    –Kitchen: 1 slave, initially unfriendly.

    Again, if that is what you prefer, more power to you. I respectfully disagree.

    Personally, I like having the details. If it is there, then I can make a decision on it.

  6. Reason says:

    Ok. I think you’re trying to take my preferences back to reductio ad absurdum levels where yes, we arrive back at truly minimalist keys that suck a bit. But that’s a silly game to play. Yes I want some content, but Dungeon adventures are routinely full of useless trivia & backstory I do not use. They actively discourage me from reading/using them. They hinder me.

    It’s an endless warren trying to answer hypotheticals but for the goblin example-

    Yes, that sounds great. But assuming he is a random encounter I don’t need more than:
    “Goblins, d6 appearing. Leaping & shouting in frustration or exultation as they chase little glowing motes around the ruins.”

    There needs to be enough in there that PC’s can figure out a way to interact with the glow bugs idea & leverage it if they want to/think of it. But no more. I will do the explaining myself either during play or as I read the module & take notes if it inspires me. Leave me room.

    One sentence to liven up the random encounter. No bloat. I don’t need that they come from a tribe which likes to snort them. Because I might want them to be saving them up their noses for transportation to their shaman. Or mistakenly believe they will be able to sneeze lightning if they snort enough. Or they hate light, believe they are fairies, whatever.

    Frogs are not intelligent. Less likely to be interacted with or researched. Spare me their backstory, history and ecology of the moat frogs PLEASE and get on with the adventure.

    There’s centipedes in the ruined kitchen? Fine! Sure there is. Please don’t spend a paragraph telling me they were drawn by the smell of rotting food & are an abnormally large breed normally native to Quaqua land. “2d4 giant centipedes. Follow the smell of food or carrion” will do for me. Gives me a colour hint & the idea they might show up on corpses the PC’s leave behind as they kill stuff. When EVERY aspect of an adventure is over-explained, it becomes bloated & frustrating.

    See the difference? Yes, write your adventure. Include cool bits of colour like your glow bug catching goblins. But ONLY if it is INTERACTIVE & GAMEABLE. And it really shouldn’t need more than a sentence for a random moat danger/kitchen guard.

    Does that explain the level of detail I like my modules at, without being reductive about it?

    I find MOST 1 page dungeons too minimalist (but some are cool). 2 page dungeons I can dig. Check out something like the Fall of Whitecliff for about the _minimum_ of keying I would buy. Or something like Stealer of Children for the maximum. Somewhere between the two is my platonic ideal. Maybe Curse of the Shrine Goddess or Tomb of the Hated Pretender for side treks/non base adventures.

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