Tomb of the Iron God

This is a near perfect example of an old school adventure module.

Villagers report that there was recently a truly massive lightning storm that centered on the nearby Monastery of the Iron God. There have been no sign of the kindly monks since then, but rumors of the recent wealth of these monks are well traveled …

Before I get in to this adventure, which is totally awesome, I would like to once again offer a few words of advice. If you happen to find yourself in a fantasy world in which The Gods are obviously real (grant you spells, show up frequently in visions and a bit less so in person, etc) then it’s probably not a good idea to join a religious order and then piss off the patron god. If you DO want to do that then at least join a different gods cult first, preferably a diametrically opposed one, so you get a bit of protection from the wrath of the first god. You can still expect some fallout, but at least you’ll have some protection. The moronic monks in this monastery did not follow that advice.

The background section is short: a goodly order of monks, charged with interring the dead, have reinterpreted their vows and now keep tribute. Their god, The Iron God, who lives in their monastery along with his nemesis, punished them. Hard. This is detailed briefly in a couple of paragraphs along with the player hook “rumors of wealth!” in just a half page or so. A very nice rumors tables takes up another small section and then the adventure keys start. This is the way I like things; just enough detail and background to get things launched and then leaving the rest up to the DM. I don’t need a three page epic backstory, I need just enough information to refresh me memory and get my whimsy juices flowing.

The monastery has two levels with about 60 keyed rooms. The maps of the two levels are pretty well designed. There are lots of alternative routes, loops, and other ways for a party to get from point A to point B. I love these sorts of maps. They lend a real sense of exploration and discovery to an adventure. Monsters can show up behind a party, ambush, or be ambushed. In fact, one of the room encounters with goblins note that they will use this very tactic! The maps also detail lots of statues, pools, secret doors, pits, and other associated features. Just what I’m looking for! The wandering monsters are nothing too special: undead, goblins, and vermin. Each type IS given a maximum number. Once the party has killed 50 giant centipedes then there will be no more appearing, and so on. Stats are included, which I appreciate. A real opportunity was missed with the goblins though.

Yes, there’s goblins. I generally don’t like humanoid monsters in my adventurers. They are mostly a substitute for “evil human bandits” and rarely have anything interesting going on. I generally prefer, and substitute, brigands and reserve ‘Monster’ statues for the truly bizarre stuff. I think the real monsters have much more impact that way, it allows for more role-play, and can give the players second thoughts: all humans look alike, are they 0-level or more experienced? I’m not saying that humanoids can never be used well, but they are so rarely that it makes more sense just to substitute some bandits, with the same stats. In this instance the goblins are mostly just window dressing and something to get hacked on. There are two exceptions to this though that reveal more of what could have been done with them. First, the shaman has left a shrunken head in the entryway with a magic mouth on it. That’s nice. It starts bleeding over in to the goblins being a real race with different values and culture. They are still gonna get hacked down in that case, but at least the flavor text is nice and we get a better sense of the weird and alien. Second, one room have a group of goblins playing a game of poking a captured cat with sharpened bones. This sort of snapshot of Real Life taking place in the dungeon is something I like to see. it gives the sense that life is  taking place outside the actions of the party. Sadly, this room is the only real example of that. The wandering goblins, and the few fixed encounters with them, would have been a wonderful opportunity to display more of this.

The module dungeon has several other nice features. There are statues and fountains to play with and explore. Most of these do strange things. Who wants a +1 in combat for the next day! Oh, or you might die. Go ahead guys, push the big red shiny shiny button …   I love seeing that sort of thing in modules. There is also something akin to factions, or at least allies, in the dungeon. More than one room has some potential allies the party can take advantage of if they keep heads on straight. There’s also a lot of inscriptions on walls, bizarre statues who’s faces change, and spooky crypts to explore. Oh, and two gods. Yes Virginia, this 1st level module has two gods in it. It also has probably over 500 monsters in it. Yes, you read that right. And a decent number of the rooms are empty. Group that charge in expecting to win every fight are going to be TPK’d in short order. Gotta know when to hold em and know when to fold em folks. There’s a lot of good treasure, not just in coin but in rugs, tapestries, candlesticks, etc. Most of the magic items are rather normal ones and I would have preferred to see those items personalized; +1 shield is boring.

The module ends with some advice on how to run an old school dungeon and advice on restocking the dungeon; who moves in when the players retreat to rest in town. These are both good sections, especially the one on how to play old school style. It’s good primer on the Imagination The Hell Out  Of It attitude that I enjoy so much.

This is available at DriveThru.–Wizardry?affiliate_id=1892600

This entry was posted in Level 1, Reviews, The Best. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Tomb of the Iron God

  1. Anonymous says:

    Is the lower floor boring?

    The spike, frog and 50 skellys are good rooms.

    The alcoves with corpses are good but that is most of whats down there

  2. Jax7778 says:

    For anyone who would like a copy of this, the version on Drive thru has been “updated” it has better maps, but the text has been changed to an odd comic book style I personally am not a fan of. The original is on Lulu and is much easier on the eyes, at least to me.

  3. Gnarley Bones says:

    You know, if not for the last comment, I may have forgotten to chime in.

    I did finally pick this up; no excuse for the delay. It is just so good. It’s a perfect piece. For any discussion on the merits of any OSR works, Tomb of the Iron God is a mandatory inclusion. It is literally the platonic ideal module.

  4. Anonymous says:

    No comment on the lower floors?

    I have run this in person and online a total of 10 times? I am a fan but the lower section in play takes energy slow

  5. markuscz says:

    I’ve played this recently based on Bryce’s review and was pretty underwhelmed. The top floor is solid but a bit on the bland side – especially the main adversary, goblins, is just gobs placed into rooms, with no character or even basic tactics like those in B2. The bottom floor is just boring, random undead in random rooms randomly scattered around the map.

    Overall, an average to good adventure but I don’t get where “the Best” is coming from. I guess back in 2012 the standards for gread adventures were lower and Bryce loved anything that had usable layout.

    Note: There’s a new version that’s actually back-converted from 5e (even the S&W one), which shows e.g. on the neutred random encounter table. The main change is swapping the goblins for intelligent baboons. And it has an absolutely dreadful, unreadable font. Avoid at all costs.

  6. Killian says:

    Haven’t played this so can’t comment from that angle, but I agree, I found this actually quite bland and uninspiring and couldn’t understand the rating Bryce gave to it.

  7. Mister Booze says:

    Started to run the original version (the new one has monkeys?) in Knave 2e to test the system. In two sessions so far, the players have explored most of the first level, but had to retreat a few times. They just lost their torchbearer because he began to hallucinate (they only found robes for the 3 PCs and gave him the holy symbol they found and repaired) in the snake-room, stayed back when they ran from the snakes and was killed.
    I like it quite a bit. Some mistakes/inconsistencies but nothing too major. Could be considered a bit bland, since most of the rooms are lacking a bit of detail, which have to be made up by the DM.

    • Anonymous says:

      Awww man why’d you have to run it in Knave?

      • Mister Booze says:

        “to test the system”. It works quite well I must say. Not sure I want to run a long campaing with it, but I can see myself using it a lot for one shots or shorter adventures.

  8. Dave says:

    It’s got some grace notes that play out well, but might get missed on a read through. The fifty skeletons in one room on the second floor lead to cool player plans both times I’ve run it, plus a follow up cool Conan cleaving his way through the horde moment when I ran it in ACKS. The pool is good enough; “just” a giant frog trying to pull someone in the water, but the option of diving for treasure in murky water after. The secret doors are good, giving alternate routes, and clued by other features in the dungeon. The ridiculous rotating floor/giant ant room is challenging but survivable and beatable. Waking up the Eater of the Dead is cool and survivable if things fall right, and entirely optional on the players’ part anyway.

    It is a slow burn on the first level though, with a multi-session commitment to run to completion. Run it if your D&D group intrinsically likes playing D&D (not actually a given I’ve learned), but if you’re selling a new group on D&D I’d lead off with something else for more fireworks in the first session.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *