JMD01 – Beneath the Ghoul Lair

A pack of vicious ghouls recently attacked a group of adventurers. The party’s ranger tracked the ghouls back to an old cave but dared not go inside as it was far too dangerous. A plea has gone out to any able-bodied adventurers nearby to clear out this undead infestation. You and your allies have heard the call and set out urgently for the cave to end the thread, find some treasure, and hopefully survive the horrors beneath the ghoul lair!

This is a relatively simple and straightforward tomb complex exploration, on two levels, with some interesting magic items and way too much treasure.

The hook here is quite simple. Someone tracked a pack of ghouls back to their lair but wasn’t strong enough to finish them. Word gets out and the party presumably pursues the ghouls in order to Do Right In The World. Not the strongest hook in the world, and it may work out better is the party were to stumble upon some ghoul handiwork a few times and perhaps be attached to a nearby village that is threatened. That might work well, especially with the orcs being masterminds.

Yes, there are orcs. The ghoul lair is an old tomb with the first level being mostly undead the second level having a strong contingent of a local undead-worshiping cult of orcs. I don’t like orcs; they tend to just be “bandits who are bestial” and I’d much prefer that my bandits actually be evil SOB’s and save the term ‘monster’ for the truly bizzarre and alien. I’m sure someone somewhere in the history of RPG’s has created a module with truly interesting orcs however I don’t ever remember seeing it.

The maps are pretty straight forward, as burial complexes go. They are more like catacombs than a tomb, with lots of spots for he commoners and a few nicer chambers for the honored (wealthy) dead. They don’t really have loops, not being large enough to support a true exploration, but they are quite varied in dungeon features and layout. Pillars, statues, shrines, cave intrusion, and lots of “same level” stairs. The wandering monsters fall in to three categories: orcs, undead, or vermin, with the combat encounters falling in to the same categories with a few oozes and a rust monster thrown in. The room descriptions can get a bit lengthy and verbose; I wish most of the room history and usage was left out. It does help the DM flesh things out a bit, but at the cost of downtime. A bolded one or two word description would work as well, I would guess.

The magic items are one of the more interesting parts of the module. Amulet of Borrowed Time, Table of Bountiful Feasts, even a Helm of Invisibility. There are several interesting weapons of the type “+1, +3 vs purple monsters” or armor of a “+2 vs cold saves”. Even a +1 mace with some details on what it looks like. This sort of customization really can make items stand out and add a lot of depth to the game and I always enjoy seeing them. There’s a fine scattering of consumable potions and scrolls as well, which, again, is good. Players should rely on those more and ‘know’ there will be more coming down the pike, freeing them up to use them. The actual encounters, 48 or so encounters over the two levels, don’t have a great deal of interesting things going on. Weakened floors, golem tombs, fake riddles, and a glyph or two are the standouts, but they don’t really add enough to make this an interesting & evocative environment. The whole place is STUFFED with coins, gems, and jewelry. Remember that rule where you can only go up one level at a time? You’re going to be using it. What’s very interesting is that this very fact is included two in the adventure, along with a potential recommendation that the DM limit awards to a certain percentage: 1xp per 10gp, so such. Or … less treasure could have been included!   An explanation is offered: “this is the type of treasure that can be found.” but that really doesn’t make sense to me either.

I’d rate this one average, which means it’s better than the vast majority of modules that exist.  The rooms and environment are a bit lacking to turn this in to a more memorable experience. I’m am absolutly certain that this fulfills its primary purpose: an adventure to pick up and play in an evening or three if you need/want something simple.

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