By David Markiwsky Aegis Studios B/X Levels 2-3
A writ of salvage has been issued for an area on the edge of the Untamed Gauntlet known as Hangman’s Folly. The Folly is known to have once been the site of a prosperous village that was beset by a witch and eventually burned to the ground. It is suspected that there might be valuable artifacts attributed to the witch within the ruins of the village. Additionally, a local landlord, named Baron DeCours ventured into the same area with a party of soldiers some 10 days prior, with the intention of investigating a string of attacks in the area and has not been seen since. A reward of 100 gold pieces is offered for information relating to the location of the Baron.
This eleven page adventure features a seven room dungeon. Tough monsters, minimal loot, small lair dungeon … it’s hard to love this. There is a surprise or two in store that I enjoyed, but it’s hard to separate this one from the pack.
Yet another in the long line of adventures based around a small Dyson lair map. This is a seven room cave complex with one of two outside locations. There’s a little shrine in the area as well a small ruined tower before you get to Hangman Hill … and the cave in the base of it. There’s no real wilderness/overview map, and my description of the area trumps any provided by the adventure proper. “When the players get to the cave …” announces the adventure. Wait, there’s a cave? “The tower is all that remains of … “ Wait, there’s a tower? Where did that come from? I suspect these were thrown in at the last minute and any kind of outside description orientation overlooked. With no context the locations are jarring.
Note how the intro uses the word Hangmans Folly? The first room or two also are all full of tree roots hanging down, 13th Warrior style. And that withered tree on top of the hill (the top of the hill that doesn’t show up n the adventure, BTW.) Surprise, surprise, you get to a room FULL of tree roots hanging. The roots, it turns out, of a Hangmans tree monster! Oh snap! The adventure got me! Lulled in to it! Tree roots introduced in one room only to attack in another, from foreshadowing of “hangman” two or three times and a tree on top of hangman hill! This reminds me of the time some adventure had some figures, mentioned singing, and I didn’t make the connection to the actual monster, harpies. There’s nothing better than dropping multiple clues only to have the party miss them all and it all click to 100% obviousness in retrospect. That’s a well done set up. And shame on me for ever thinking that a room full of tree roots hanging down could be anything other than an issue. I revel when I get immersed in an environment, forgetting my meta-D&D think. That this managed that is a nice compliment. (Other things I’ve fallen for lately: a ‘wand’ sticking up from the dirt in the garden that was “stuck” and a cactus plant with fruit on it. And I fucking KNEW there sandworms; I’d warned people repeatedly, to the extent they were making fun of me. But I was overcome in the revel of the moment.)
There’s a serious issue with the monsters in this. A small dungeon with seven rooms that has 14 bugbears outside a hangman tree, a ghost, a werewolf, and four wights all incide. I’m not so sure that’s a level 2-3 adventure. While the text and publishers blurb says level 2-3 the cover says 3-4, which is closer, I think, to the truth. And still pretty fucking far off. Those are, IMO, some serious shit encounters for a level 4 group. A smaller dungeon exacerbates the problem, putting other creatures in agro distance and leaving few places to run, escape, leverage for wacky plans. And, of course, the cover says one level range while the advert and text says something else.
This thing has a decent issue with putting information out of place and/or not including cross-references. “You hear splashing nearby.” Well, from where? Nope, doesn’t say. Or the fact that the outside area mentions lots of tracks going in and out of the cave, but not words on what they are … until you get to encounter one, then you get the details. The information isn’t quite where you need it, multiple times.
It like to engage in a fair bit of explaining, like saying that a gold earring left a shrine was by a girl trying to curry favour with the moon goddess. Well, ok, but to what end? I mean, what purpose does this background expository (and there’s already a lot, a few pages of it at the start) serve? Instead we get text like “seven dead bodies” in the roots of the hangmans tree … an excellent opportunity lost to note their roots digging in to flesh, bulging eyes, dessicated bodies, etc. It tries to use descriptive text in the read-alouds but then all but abandons the attempt in the actual DM’s text.
A notable exception is the ghost. One sentence of a read-aloud tells us that “At the bottom of the pool, nearly hidden by the murky water, is the figure of a young human man, secured to the bottom of the pool by a series of thin roots.” This is then followed up, in the DM text with “… an eerie green glow begins to form on the bottom of the pool and a ghostly figure of the man drowned at the bottom of the pool emerges.” That’s not bad, overall. Drowned young man in a shallow pool, tree roots holding him down, eerie green glow, ghost of a drowned man emerging. That’s something that I can work well with to paint a good picture for the players.
The adventures needs a lot for of that short and punchy imagery and less background exposition. More cross-references and context for the outside, and less padded text.
This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is broken. 🙁
I’ve long been a fan of Dyson’s maps, I have Delves I and II in hardcopy that I’ve written in and run adventures out of.
And I wonder if adventure writers are running up against the limits of them. They are mostly pretty small (at least one exception), so it’s hard to get into the mega-dungeon uses of empty space for buffer zones, tactical purposes, building tension, hiding out and resting, etc.
Separately, even at the lair size most Dyson maps are at it can be useful to draw in an extra room or two or add a secret passageway to make sense of what you’re putting in. But that may run afoul of copyright, or perhaps Dyson doesn’t care but no one thinks of it for publication.