By Guy Fullerton Chaotic Henchmen AD&D Levels 2-3
… After clashes with inhuman raiders—some with armor fused to body like a second skin, and bewitched with unexpected powers—it becomes clear they are in league with a yet-undiscovered malefactor. Some of their recent tracks lead to the crater.
This fourteen page adventure uses six pages to describe a thirty-six room multi-level dungeon. Compact and efficient, it presents an environment that supports exploration, role playing, and interactivity. He does this seemingly effortlessly, with well organized room descriptions that are neither minimal or verbose. It has exactly as many words as it needs
So, big ass crater. In the middle is a massive outcropping with a fortress carved in to the top. At night the crater fills with mist. And, unknown to the party, it also gets tougher at night as otherworldly guardians emerge. Interestingly enough, you can also gain substantial treasure robbing the place, in the daytime, with not too much trouble. Thus the cycle begins anew: the players push their luck, trying to explore everything and steal anything not nailed down (and some that is.) Just one more room .. .and then it’s nighttime and things get hard. Or you stumble on an 8HD monster with an 18” move. This is great design. A couple of tough guys running around, some lesse monsters, a push your luck element … Exciting D&D ahead!
Interactivity here is good. Aside from big monsters chasing you, you have glass walls to shatter, statues to fuck with (multiple ones in multiple ways), cauldrons to bubble, weird-ass traps/locks to disarm. D&D’s exploration elements must include these interactive elements. Not all bad. Not all good. Some bad. Some good. Some just ARE. A neutral environment will of things to mess with. It harkens back to the interactive elements of some the best adventures written in the early days … or at least the best parts of them.
Supporting materials are great. The map has loops and multiple stairs on each level. Some rooms have windows. Some hallways are different sizes. There’s a side-view to show how the levels work together with the crater. There’s a summary sheet with all the monster stats. The wanderers are doing somethings. All of the little things that contribute to helping the DM are present. Magic is magical and well described. “Uneven frogs’ eyes, cauliflower ears, and a barbed-tongue handle all protrude from this golden hand mirror—its frame suggesting a gaping, toothless maw.” Oh, yeah, blood activates it. A specific description, a visceral activation, and a non-standard but understandable effect. The way magic items should be.
The writing is solid, and organized. The rooms start with a title. “4. Shrine.” You now now all of the usual stuff that should go in the room, so Guy can concentrate the rest of his text on the meaningful/actionable parts that contribute to the adventure rather than the trivia of what a shrine is. The Petrified Library has “Three rows of granite shelving support hundreds of useless stone book sculptures …” BAM! Done! Now the business of the room can begin, describing the books that are real and how they work. Or “Bridcage: 4 ft wooden cage encloses a pecked, rotting humanoid lower leg, and a few gray feathers.” The rest is a little DM text describing the cage.
Go ahead, stick your arm in that arm sized hole. You know you need to unlock the door. And we ALL know what’s going to happen. But then Guy turns it back and makes something unexpected happen. The party freaks, challenges to overcome under pressure and only bravery wins the day. Go ahead. Do it again …
You can talk to most of the intelligent monsters and guards. They want things. They are not necessarily friendly, and bloodshed will almost certainly happen, but a conversation can lead to melee while “They Attack” monster encounters all lead to the same place: D&D as tactical miniatures combat. B O R I N G. By inserting some motivations and the possibility of parley the role of the adventurers becomes so much more interesting during play.
There are few negatives. The side-view map could be a bit clearer, it took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on. I got the general gist immediately, the way side-view maps allow for, but the extra detail took me a second, especially on the undercaverns. There was also an opportunity lost, I think, to include some humanoids. If the baddies treat with evil humanoids them then an evoy party or two, in the rooms or wanders table, may have added yet another element.
Guy knows what he’s doing. He understand supporting the DM. He understand what’s important in an adventure and he he understands how to write it well to be evocative and yet scannable. I know I get shit for saying it, but the best adventures today dwarf almost all of the older/original ones.
This is $5 at DriveThru, and a Print version is at North Texas … and maybe after? Black Blade would know if they have extras. The preview is four pages and hows the side-vide map and the first fourteen rooms. It perfectly represents what you should expect once you buy this. Note the use of Day and Night sections for rooms, and the paragraph form used to concisely convey information. This is what everyone writing paragraphs is striving for (well, most anyway) but fail to achieve.