The Warren

By Simon Miles
Dunromin University Press
Levels 5-8

Baron Ketterall’s lands are beset by a plague of marauding goblins! Goblins you say? Pah! Who’s afraid of a few poxy goblins? But two experienced parties have already gone looking for the goblin lair – never to be heard of again.  Poxy goblins you say? Be afraid, be very afraid…

This 76 page adventure features a two level dungeon with about a hundred rooms described in about forty pages. Featuring about 400 or so goblins of the “Tuckers Kobolds” variety, it’s more of a strategic challenge than tactical one. It’s light on treasure and does a very poor job of presenting a complex environment in a way the Dm can use it well.

The Tucker situation requires some special commentary from me. This is where the monsters know you’re coming and have spent their lives preparing for you. They use every resource at their disposal to stop the party, hit & run tactics, poison, traps, and everything else. I don’t have a problem with this as long it’s done right. Done Right means a couple of things. First, there’s a fine line between the Goblins Are Prepared and DM Is Fucking Over The Party. Goblins that pay to have a dozen wish spells cast is Fucking Over The Party by the DM. Goblins that live in naturally small spaces that are cramped for normal humans, with associated penalties, is more in the correct light. This, gladly engages in that and not the Wish-gimp, and associated, nonsense. Spaces are small which makes fighting and spells harder to cast, traps generally makes sense and are not TOO out there, and the whole thing doesn’t feel like a Gotcha Adventure. There’s also a quid pro quo thing to think about between the DM and party. If you fight 100 orcs and they are all 1 HD and there’s one orc that looks like all the rest but has 100000 HP and disintegrates at will, well, no fair. In this context, if you are playing “normal” dungeons and suddenly get thrown in to this Jim Ward fantasy fest, well, the DM is not holding up his end of the bargain with that orc. There are some hints in the beginning, with two previous parties being killed off, but that’s about all the warning you’re gonna get. And once in You. Are. In. The goblins will harass retreating parties making it very unlikely that a typical scouting foray will make it back. More could have been done in this area to design around the first retreat, or additional warnings in the beginning to ensure the party knows the rules are changing and this is not a tactical challenge but rather a strategic one.

And strategic it is. This ain’t the Caves of Chaos, it’s more akin to solving the Tomb of Horrors with your 200 orc servants. If that’s the adventure you want to run, and the party either knows that’s what’s up or has a chance at an initial retreat, then great. But, like I said, this place is a fucking deathtrap. Well organized patrols outside and inside, including dudes whose only job it is to make noise to keep sleeping parties awake and distract them to wrong directions. There’s a high level of tactics and monster leadership in this dungeon which you’re gonna have to be ok with. Do Chaos monsters do this, to this degree? That, more than anything else, strains the old Belief ‘o Meter. 

The dungeon proper, claims to be three levels, but that includes the outside with about ten locations and then the two underground levels with about fifty rooms each. The encounters are almost all tactics issues. Hit & Run goblins, traps, and heavy heavy poison use. There’s a few “old wizards lair” rooms with more typical interactivity, but the vast majority of the place are tactics rooms for a swat team raid. Or, maybe, a First Ranger Battalion raid. 😉

Treasure seems exceptionally light for levels 6-8 in a Gold=XP game, but the real issue with the dungeon is its organization. Read-aloud is not bad, but the DM text for virtually every room is lengthy and poorly oriented. These rooms end up being complex affairs, with the tactics for various groups frequently mentioned. It ends up being sentences after sentence after sentence of DM text in typical paragraph form. I would suggest that this is not the right way to present this information. Indents, bullets and bolding are SORELY needed to call out important details for the DM to actually run the room without pausing for multiple minutes in each room to digest the text and formulate consequences. As it’s written I don’t see there being much support at all for a DM in running this. There IS a summary sheet for all the monsters, at the end which is GREAT, but the rooms proper need a good rethink in how to organize and layout the text in order to achieve the impact (hell on PC’s) desired. This lack of organization is foreshadowed by the introduction text for the DM in the opening “hook/hiring” scenes. The text is columns long with nothing done to highlight important facts. You either have to memorize it, slow down the game to a monstrous affair, or whip out Ye Olde Highlighter … in which case why didn’t the designer do that for you? 

Likewise support for ongoing effects. Fighting and spell-casting in cramped quarters. Poison impact. These could have been included on the summary sheet in just a few words and quick reference for “Always On” facts needed. Andthe place is supposed to be full of filth and parasites … mentioned once and never again. Imagine, though, a border around each page with some “inspirational” words for filth and parasites for the DM to throw in for each room. That would have been good support for the DM and thrown in a metric fuck ton of great fun for the DM and party.

This ain’t the first Tuckers Kobolds adventure and it won’t be the last. Let’s hope future endeavors come out more like Jim Kramers Usherwood offerings, or those Troll Lord vivking-ish offerings. (Velsham?)

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is nineteen pages, but doesn’t actually show you any encounters, so, poor preview. Your best bet is to look at pages seven through ten of the preview. This describes some general information, like rumors and wanderers and the like. You can get an idea from those pages of how complex information and meaningful information is presented in long column form, making it hard to use as reference during play.

This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Warren

  1. BACLF says:

    Oho, so this is the ‘fantasy fucking Vietnam’ I’ve been hearing about all these years.

  2. Anonymous says:

    “Tallow’s Deep” from Dungeon Magazine implements this same scenario really well.

  3. Hi All,
    Thanks for taking the time to do such a thorough review of what was our first comercial adventure.
    This is just a quick update on the Warren: We’ve seen quite a few reviews struggling with the length and complexity of the location descriptions in this adventure so there is now a second edition in which the text has been editted down (a bit) and re-ordered to allow the key pieces of information to be identified and used without upsetting game flow (we hope).
    It has also been reformatted so that it is (as with our other products) available in Print on Demand as well (get the one with a free pdf if you do fancy it – the POD maps are B&W so you might also want to print yourself a colour map – they are equally usable in mono or colour but the colour ones are prettier).
    We’re pretty pleased that you think it is a challenging adventure; that was the idea. Something to grind the party’s confidence and make them get resourceful. But fair enough, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Goblins are Lawful Evil, by the way, it’s why we chose Goblins and not Kobolds (c.f. Tucker’s Kobolds), otherwise the organisation simply wouldn’t work, as you correctly observe.

Leave a Reply

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