Beneath the Ruins of Firestone Keep

By M. T. Black, GM Lent, Dave Zajac
Self Published
Levels 1-3

Lord Blackmoor’s son has been kidnapped, and is being held in the crypts beneath an ancient fortress. Can our heroes rescue the boy before he is sacrificed in a diabolical ceremony?

This twenty six page adventure has a twenty five room dungeon crawl. Long read-aloud, lots of explaining and justifications for things pad out what would be normal crawl.

There are four chapters here, where chapter one is “hook, two is “wilderness journey” (IE: two linear encounters”), three is the dungeon and four is the NPC betrayal. As soon as I read the hook I knew the lords sister was the baddy and, sure enough, she turns out to tbe the baddy. Shoulda just killed her to start with.

Anway, Lord Who Cares’
Son has been kidnapped and he wants the party to go get him. He knows the kobolds did it and that they lair in a ruin nearby. In my opinion, he’s getting what he deserves for not slaughtering the kobolds earlier, but whatever. He loves his son so much that he can’t be bothered to send his six guards with the party. “They can’t be spared.” Uh huh. It’s this kind of shit that breaks the suspension of disbelief. “Sure, whatever, I guess we have to if we want to play D&D tonight.” Just give the due no guards, or let the party have them if they are smart enough to ask, or something else. Why fuck around with saying no? I’ll tell you why, because the designer said so, that’s why!

A pit trap takes two paragraphs to describe. Remember pit traps? They used to be drawn on the map as an X with no text in the adventure? Not anymore. Some rooms take over a page to describe. Read-aloud overstays its welcome … while simultaneously saying nothing. “There are two doors, one open and one shut.” I FRIGGING HATE THE SIBBY!!

One of the chief sins herein is engaging in explaining and justifying. “He was a necromancer, which accounts for the high amount of necrotic energy in the crypts.” That’s FUCKING irrelevant It doesn’t matter if it has no impact on the adventure. What’s the explanation for? WHO’S the explanation for? It has no impact on play. The adventure engages in this activity over and over again, justifying shit, noting trivia. Make a DC15 Religion check to know the frescos re related to Bane, god of War … which is nothing but trivia. At one point there’s read-aloud that says something like “as if it were clawing its way out of a nightmare.” No. Just No. Failed Novelist Syndrome. Or how about conditional descriptions? IF the party triggers the tripwire THEN the kobolds will … Again, no, No, NO! This sort of phrasing drives me insane. It’s nothing but padding.

The map is ok. It’s a bit larger DYson map than usual, and has some loops and passages running under others. It’s not an ANTI_exploration map and is good enough for the tactics and mystery needed for a dungeoncrawl map. The magic items are generally boring, with the exception of an item or two, like a faulty mirror of scrying and a magic glaive that gives you advantage on intimidates and has a nice glowing jewel and makes cool sounds when wielded. IE: its a magic item and not just a mechanical bonus.

This is $3 at DriveThru.–Adventure?affiliate_id=1892600

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26 Responses to Beneath the Ruins of Firestone Keep

  1. LONG time reader and LOVE this stuff. I agree totally with you Bryce about most modules being written as if they were there to entertain and not to facilitate play. My only question is this: How do you avoid the if/then format???

    If the kobolds are given the cheese sandwich from room 12 they won’t attack.

    If the party steps on the white stone tiles then a spear trap springs.

    If the party reminds the wizard of his previous failures he becomes angry and refuses to help them find the lost scroll.

    How else to do these sort of things?

    • canyonjf says:

      I don’t know what Bryce would say, and I’ve never published anything, so take this with a grain of salt. But here’s how I would write those:

      The kobolds are on the brink of starving and their loyalty is easily bought.

      More than 5 lbs pressure on the white stone tiles will trigger spear-launchers concealed among the statuary.

      The wizard is arrogant and hates to be reminded of his previous failures.

      The consequence is obvious from the description, and you’re forced to say a bit more about the world, fleshing it out better.

    • Wishful says:

      This is something I originally disagreed with Bryce on, but canyonjf gives solid examples of how they can be written better.

      I don’t think the problem is necessarily the if-then construction, it’s that it assumes (even encourages) a specific course of action.

      “If a PC places a weapon in the statue’s hand, the secret door will open.”

      Okay, so what if a goblin places a weapon in there? Why not just “placing a weapon into the statue’s hand will open the secret door” or something similar?

      You want to describe the environment and situation, not prepare for possible courses of action. Otherwise you end up trying to account for every potential action, and therein lies madness.

      • I agree with Wishful. And it’s hard!! I catch myself doing if/when but its starting to pop out like a red flag to me. If/when is passive…stating something like “placing a weapon into the statue’s hand will open the secret door” is stronger…even better if you take out that nasty word ‘will’ and say ‘opens’ instead to save even more room.

  2. Last Bus to Dwimmermount says:

    This is the adventure the author of Giantslayer recommended as more suited to Bryce’s tastes– I guess it didn’t work either.

  3. MT Black says:

    lol – and I thought Bryce would like this one! I’m afraid this is about as close to your style of adventure that my stuff gets.

    For those wondering how I got two whole paragraphs out of a pit trap, here are offending words –

    *The kobolds have dug a pit in this intersection to deter a creature (who they call “the lurker”) from stealing their eggs. The pit is 12’ deep and is about 20’ long. It is uncovered.

    In the bottom of the pit, to a depth of 2’, is an acidic substance that Vumkaxxu calls “oil of vitriol.” If someone enters the oil, they take 1d6 acid damage every round.*

    • OSR Caveman says:

      That could’ve been

      *The uncovered pit here is meant to deter “the lurker” from stealing kobold eggs. The pit is 12’ deep and is about 20’ long. In the bottom is a 2’ deep pool of acid that deals 1d6 damage every round.*

      instead. Bryce’s views are idiosyncratic but he’s generally right about terseness.

  4. Dave R says:

    I do think Bryce has mistaken an idiosyncratic personal preference of his for an objective truth in regards to traps. For myself, I want and expect traps to be solvable/interactable by characters taking actions in the game, without simply rolling to detect, then to disable traps. So that characters can disable or at least bypass traps without just “thief rolls thief.” (Of course thieves get their skill rolls as well, but that’s a separate layer, which for me makes sense out of their typically low starting numbers.)

    But this approach necessitates having a trigger and a method of operation described. If it’s not described ahead of time and I’ve got to come up with something on the fly, at best it’ll be boring and standard, and if I’m running something published that has nothing but the pit trap symbol after a single read-through (another Bryce standard), I’m likely to forget entirely and default to rolling dice.

    So it’s a weird blind spot for an old-school friendly blogger to have. I remember he dinged Unseen Vaults of the Optic Experiment for the same sin, so it’s not just this adventure.

    • Klaus Gerken says:

      Read the description of the trap MT Black gave us. Does this really give you anything game related that “Pit trap 12′ deep, filled with 2′ of acid (1d6 damage per round)”, and an marker on the map, wouldn’t give you?
      Now if the Kobolds hat concealed it in any way, or if there was an mechanism that caused an trap door to open, that would need to be spelled in an room description.
      The way it is, the only reason for this trap to have 68 words instead of 13 is that it’s makes more “pleasing” prose that way.

      @MT Black: Sorry, I don’t want to belittle your work. You published several adventures, and that is more then I ever did I guess, but you gave the example and I figured I use it.

      • M.T. Black says:

        No offense taken Klaus! But I think you are mistaken.

        If all the adventurers do is stumble into the pit trap (or avoid it), then yes, the extra words are wasted. But what if they capture a kobold and question it? What if they ask who dug the pit and why? What if they ask what the liquid in the bottom is and where it came from?

        You can have the DM improvise everything, of course, but this gives a bit of meat for the DM to play with. It also shows a bit about the dungeon ecology.

        • Klaus Gerken says:

          Okay, my browser just ate my comment so short version:
          1) Dave R, said you need some explanation about the mechanics of a trap for OSR style play. I think your example neither provides any, nor does it need any. It’s a hole in the ground with acid at the bottom.
          2) I think your right, the information that the Kobolds fear an beast they call “Lurker” is a good one. It can be exploited by smart players. I just think it belongs to the description of the Kobold tribe. If it is there, why write it down another time? If it isn’t there, why not?

          A room description is a thing I want to use at the table. It should be as short as possible.

          • No one asked my opinion….but here it is anyways. I personally love a little bit of ‘flair’. ..I like the ‘Lurker’ bit and agree with Klaus that there should maybe be a little beginning paragraph about the kobolds….and to go further, I would of added Oil of Vitriol as a ‘magic item’ or ‘something of interest’ in the kobold intro. Because the ‘what if’s’ can go on forever as players always do crazy things. I already know I would have to answer questions to my players about the Oil–does it eat through glass? does it ruin weapons when applied? etc. as some quick, crappy examples. And that kind of info, I don’t necessarily want to see at the pit trap but somewhere else (monster intro or lair intro) would be helpful. And if it’s only a one time thing, then putting it off to a sidebar as ‘optional reading’. Following the above, this would make the pit and acid trap maybe “13 words”.

            But I agree with M.T. Black, that some of us like a little ‘bit of meat for the DM to play with”. I call that ‘flair’. Those little tidbits like the ‘Lurker’ helps my imagination and creativity start flowing. I’ve read ‘great’ terse adventures, but they were so dry with no ‘flair’ that I shelved them. If I played 5e, I’d probably check this adventure out. But it’s important, and I’m still learning myself so not trying to come off as a preacher, where and when to put that ‘flair’ so it doesn’t clog the writing when running the adventure at the table. Speaking of clogging, I probably could of reduced this comment by 50%…..

          • Dave R says:

            Who are you talking to? What example did I ever post?

          • Bryce Lynch says:

            Let’s not go off the deep end in to minimally keyed. Flair is fine. Trivia is not. Flair is more likely to be game-able than trivia, but, even then, you can away with some trivia in order to give the place some depth. SOME.

        • Edgewise says:

          “But what if they capture a kobold and question it? What if they ask who dug the pit and why? What if they ask what the liquid in the bottom is and where it came from?”

          I’ve been writing an adventure lately, thinking about how to make my content usable and flavorful. In the process, I’ve developed this rule: if it takes more time to find some information than it takes to improvise a viable and consistent substitute, then cut it.

          This doesn’t restrict the author from making the flavorful content. It just means that one should add this flavor to necessary details, leaving out all unnecessary details. Don’t forget that working within limitations can foster creativity.

          There is a bit of variation for what are useful details for a given GM and how that interacts with their GMing. I really like to minimize any downtime from flipping through a text, and I’m not the greatest at quickly finding a bit of information I am looking for. Other GMs may reasonably prefer a lot more detail.

  5. M.T. Black says:

    * Remember pit traps? They used to be drawn on the map as an X with no text in the adventure? *

    Sorry to keep going on about pit traps, but Bryce is mistaken here.

    Here’s the text for the pit trap in Steading of the Hill Giant Chief:

    “The hidden pit with a snapclosed trap door cover has 4 iron spikes set into the floor 10′ below, and each is poisoned. There is a 50% chance to fall into the pit, each person passing over the area checking—a second line having but a 25% chance of falling in if persons in a leading row drop into the trap.”

    Here’s the text for the pit trap in Keep on the Borderlands:

    “30′ inside the entrance is a pit (K). There is a 3 in 6 chance that each person in the front rank will fall in unless they are probing ahead. There is a 1 in 6 chance that individuals in the second rank will also fall in, but only if they are close to the first rank and the character ahead has fallen in. The pit is 10′ deep, and those falling in will take 1-6 points of damage. The pit lid will close, and persons within cannot escape without aid from the outside. The noise will attract creatures from areas 1. and 2. Planks for crossing the pit are stored at #1., beyond.”

    Here’s the text for the first set of pit traps in Tomb of Horrors:

    “All pits (except where noted to the contrary) throughout the Tomb are 10’ deep and concealed by a counter-weighted trap door which opens as soon as any person steps on it. Thrusting with force upon these traps with a pole will reveal them 4 in 6 (d6, 1-4). Those who step upon a pit lid will have a base 100% of falling, modified downwards by 1% per point of dexterity through 12, and 2% for each point above 12, i.e. dexterity of 13 = 14% chance of not falling into a pit, dexterity of 14 = 16%, 15 = 18%, 16 = 20%, 17 = 22%, and 18 dexterity = 24% chance of not going in. At the bottom of each pit are 5 iron spikes coated with poison. Roll d6 to determine how many spikes wound the victim; 1, 2, and 3 meaning that number of spikes have wounded the victim, 4-6 equal NONE HAVE WOUNDED the character. Each spike causes 1-6 hit points of damage, and the victim must make a saving throw versus poison for each spike which wounds him or her. Any failure means the victim is killed by the poison.”

    Now, you might say that all of these were over-written (and I might agree). But it’s not right to think that all adventures used to be written like Stonehell Dungeon – that’s not the case.

    • Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

      How are these more anymore than marking an x on a map with a pit trap? In fact, what you’ve written is a lot of complexity to add to a pit trap, including the added percentile chances…(not to mention not in line w 5e rules if anyone cares)

      • MT Black says:

        Hi Evard,

        Have another read of the post. These are not mine. They are all by Gary Gygax and are taken from classic old school adventures.

        • Wishful says:

          Gygax is known for using ten words when one will do. I wouldn’t model your writing after his.

          I checked some other classic adventures and it’s a mixed bag. In Search of the Unknown has a pit trap that takes up almost half a page, and the first paragraph is one long block of text.

          I think Moldvay gets it right. A typical example, from The Lost City:

          “This floor section conceals a hidden 10′ deep pit filled with spikes. The DM should roll for each character entering this area—the trap is triggered on a roll of 1 or 2 on 1d6. Characters falling into the pit will take 2-12 (2d6) points of damage. Remember that Demetrius does not know about this pit.”

          If Basic had a ‘standard’ spiked pit, they could have given it a symbol and removed all but the last sentence.

          • M.T. Black says:

            Yeah, Moldvay is just about my favourite of the really old school guys. I’m sorry he didn’t write more.

            I wasn’t commending Gygax’s approach in this matter, just saying that the idea that “old days equals lean text” is wrong.

          • Wishful says:

            The good products were terse. Look at Isle of Dread for example. Just over 30 pages and that contains a gazetteer, reference sheets, player handouts, new monsters, and plenty of maps. Even without inventing any new material, you could adventure there for months of play, perhaps even years.

            Meanwhile Hoard of the Dragon Queen uses about the same page count for its first three episodes. It spends half a full page telling you who an NPC is, then the next page telling you what he’s up to next. The Adventurers’ League assumes a one-level, 13-room dungeon will take “8 to 9 sessions” to get through. Presumably most of that time is spent on the DM reading the text.

            Gripes aside, I’m fine with your example of the kobold pit trap. It delivers some useful points of information very succinctly (although “it is uncovered” — is that not shown on the map?).

            Looking at the full preview, the problem doesn’t lie with your writing, it’s with 5E and how 5E adventures are written. If someone at TSR decided we should abbreviate “experience points” and “armor class”, why did nobody at Wizards think to come up with something better than “a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check”?

  6. Pieman says:

    I’ve just started playing d&d and this is my first exposition as Dm (so don’t read too much in to any opinions expressed here!).
    I think I see where Bryce is coming from that there is a lot of narrative that doesn’t really facilitate play. I read through it and wondered how I’m supposed to get this information across to the characters in the game. However reading through the comments here I realise that may be a lot of the detail will never come up and anything that does is a bonus. It makes the adventure fun to read once you realise it’s more for the DM’s benefit than much else, and if there is a chance to work it in it gives the adventure a much deeper feel than just another dungeon to crawl through.

    Mt Black has developed a lot of background to the story which I’ve enjoyed reading. This won’t really come out in the game though. Perhaps to get this across Mr (?Mrs) Black would have to work it in as an element, may be an npc giving some background at the start on the way to the mansion, or some written text to be discovered. They’re probably complete clichés, but I can’t think of any other way to work it in off hand.

    I’ve only got to the start of chapter 3 so far (slow start as we’re all new to this!). One thing I was wondering about is how best to guide the characters through the game. The room numbers and description clearly work well if played in the numerical order (getting warnings about the dangers in room 8 etc) but looking at the map it looks like they can essentially walk into room 8 or 11 as the first thing they do after the corridor ‘1’. Would you try and rail them towards 2 or just present the 3 options and let them take their chances?
    Also I wastthinking of ignoring the perception check for the secret room with the boy in. If they fail that roll then it makes the whole thing seem a bit anti climatic. The two options would be to keep letting them re roll until they find it, or to let them aimlessly wander around looking for him until they give up and tell Zoreene they failed (that is a valid option, but seems a bit anti climatic after they’ve hopefully succeeded at everything else)

    So far it certainly seems like good value for money to me, and although Bryce raises some good points I think he was a bit aggressive with the ctitism. Keep up the good work MT and if Willit and the characters all survive to the end of the adventure I’ll look at some of your other work too!

  7. M.T. Black says:

    Thanks Pieman, I appreciate your comments.

    There’s a debate (which you can see on this page) about how much background detail to include in adventures and encounters. My usual intent is to include things that might come up in the course of the adventure, but not every party is going to ask every question. But I’m still working at getting the balance right, and different DMs have different preferences.

    The adventurers can tackle the rooms in any order they like. The number doesn’t indicate which order they should go in.

    If you group doesn’t find the secret room with the boy, they might need to take a prisoner and interrogate them! The kobold alchemist is a likely candidate.

    Good luck!

    • Anonymous says:

      thanks for those clarifications. Hopefully it’ll all get a bit easier when I’m more settled into the DM role. Enjoying it so far though!

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