By David A Hill
First, some secret shame. I have a Patreon! It’s got free adventures, commentary on adventure design, and random musings about RPG’s, etc. And, it does help me buy adventures to review. It’s at https://www.patreon.com/join/tenfootpole?
llthrix was an evil genius that liked to kill adventurers. His dungeons and traps earned him a measure of infamy matched by few villains of the age. He’s dead now. But, you’ve found a way to his hidden lair – Illthrix’s own home. A place rumored to contain special trophies and treasures from the long career of the famed trapsmith. Illthrix wouldn’t bother to trap his own house, would he?
This 35 page adventure details the house of a master trap maker and wizard, with about thirty rooms. There’s some nice ideas in this, but it lacks any real keying, has long DM text, and I find the read-aloud off putting and uninspired. Warning: I’m not fond of these “challenge” dungeons.
Some years ago Bob the trap wizard made a bunch of trapped dungeons and invited adventurers to come explore them. The party has found a map to his actual house, so off they go.
The fun starts outside. There’s a tree next to the house and some clouds in the sky. Climbing the tree causes some of the limbs to catapult you to the ground. Also, the clouds can either descend like a cloudkill spell or just solidify and fall on you. That’s cute. When the adventure is good its got that kind of outside the box thinking. When it’s bad it’s got some Bad Grimtooth going on.
In multiple cases doors slam shut behind you and then something bad happens in the room. This happens in the read-aloud. The read-aloud says things like “the door closes behind you with a soft click” or some such. Other read-aloud causes you to click latches on doors, and other things that no sane minded adventurer would do if they knew this was a trap dungeon, or after the second trap in a row had been sprung. This sort of forced player movement is a bane and should not be done.
The traps are sometimes telegraphed. The read-aloud for the clouds notes that they are tinged with green and turquoise. The front door description notes that they are two doors, one with un motif and one with a moon motif. It is from this that one is expected to know that the sun door is used during the day and the moon door and night, otherwise a fire or cold trap is triggered. Initially, you don’t know it’s a trap. Once you know it’s a trap dungeon then these little trap clues make more sense. I’m still a little … iffy? about them though. On the front doors, for example, my own style is to do something like mention charred grass or a bare patch or something like that. Thus while the trap CAUSE is the focus of these read-alouds I tend to go more with a trap EFFECT in my own DM’ing. In any event, basically anything mentioned in the read-aloud is a trap and just about every room has one.
The map is hand drawn. I like hand drawn maps. You know what I like more? Legibility. The map is small with words outside the rooms pointing back to the room. Not ideal for quick comprehension. Further, the keying of the dungeon is done via words. So there’s a tiny box on the map and some words outside the map, proper, that say “Study” with a line pointing at the tiny room. Then in the text of the dungeon there’s a section heading called “Study”. No, that would be too simple. It goes further by having the section heading say “Beyond the metal door (study) or something like that. As a reviewer you see a lot of the same stuff over and over again, so seeing novel new ideas is a joy. But the designer can’t lose track, as they did here, of the purpose of the adventure being to help the DM run it. Getting cute with the room names and relying on a non-key to key your dungeon doesn’t do wonders in that category.
The read-aloud tends to be bland, with “small” things in rooms, and other plain adjectives and adverbs. In other cases the read-aloud leads the party down the wrong path, a critical error in a trap dungeon. One room specifically notes the stairs are not slick, although the air is a bit damp. The DM text then notes that the surfaces are damp. I get it, not slick doesn’t mean it’s not damp. But we’re splitting hairs a bit in actual play. Telling the party its not slick is almost certainly going to lead to them thinking “not damp”, which doesn’t help them when the damp ass grey ooze shows up. There’s this thing tha DM’s, and adventures, sometimes do when they want you to say the exact thing. “I check the door over for traps and unusual things” isn’t good enough, because the trap on the hinge and you didn’t say you were checking the hinge and so … This sort of pixel bitching is not cool. There are a few places in the adventure where this happens, like the ooze, but it feels more like it’s from unclear or confusing read-aloud then it is from a deliberate attempt to jerk the players around. In other places the read-aloud leaves out text … in one room there are three homunculus rooting around, but no mention in e read-aloud. Again, not cool.
But, then there’s clouds falling from the sky thing, or the catapult tree, things that new under the sun. There’s also a nice little scene with a will-o-the-wisp that’s “at rest”, looking like a silver dandelion puff. That’s great! When the adventure is doing these sorts of things its firing on target. But then it goes and puts in a long backstory and embeds important information about an NPC in it.
Or it does something like “not putting a level range on the adventure. I still don’t know. 6 Maybe?
Finally, I leave you, gentle readers, with this little snippet from the adventure. It’s been a hard haul to get some treasure, for a GOLD=XP game, and then you come upon this section. I don’t like this. I like my designer to put a lot of the work in. If I wanted to put the work in I’m do my own adventure.
“For treasure, the Referee may include specimens of valuable metal ore, or rough gemstone. Other possibilities include rare antivenins, a variety of large pearls of various sizes and hues (10-800 gp each), curative pastilles or elixirs, valuable pieces of amber (20-500 gp each), and alchemical powders that replicate the magical varieties of “dust.”
This is at DriveThru for $3. The preview is six pages. You can see the hand map on the second to last page and tree/clouds on the last page. None of it really gives a good idea of the actual rooms though, so a poor preview.