By Roderick Waibel Sacrosanct Games 5e Levels 1-10
Normally a time of year for celebration of the harvests, there is a tangible pall over the keep. People are on edge, and a level of inherent distrust seems to be festering underneath weak smiles and cordial habitual greetings. It seems as though the harvest celebration is happening out of routine, rather than genuine excitement. It is as if somehow the people are trying to use it as a way to get their minds off the pervasive sense of dread that is brought with each wave of fog. The circumstances that brought you to the keep are varied, but one thing is for certain: something is amiss.
This 236 page adventure uses about a hundred pages to describe a multi-level underground caves/tunnel/dungeon with about 250 rooms. Maddingly, it develops well but it missing in a kind of overview to get the DM oriented to it. Combined with a casual writing style, you can tell its got some interesting things going on but the amount of work required to massage it in to playable form would be substantial.
Multiple levels of a single mega-dungeon here, with a very brief regional map. The adventure is, though, in the dungeon. It starts with some ant tunnels. They take up a pretty substantial part of the adventure, about fifty of the 250 or so rooms. Then it leads to some intermediate caverns, and then a large underground cave with several subterranean races living in it. It ends up with a more traditional dungeon down there, in a tomb with some cutists, etc.
The ant tunnels and upper levels are relatively interesting from a ,,, developing story? standpoint. You get this initial impression and then there are little hints of things going on that develop in to more. It has a kind of developing horror present in it. It also reminds me of the Buggems lair in Legion of Gold, and, Gamma World My Favoritests, I am perhaps biased.
Things tend to go downhill after that. The underground community section has five factions present, but while each get a decently extensive write up I don’t feel like it lives up to its potential in any way. And the final dungeon levels, in a temple, etc, do bring back more interesting ideas again but … it just feels off.
The thing is not organized well. For such a large adventure, 250 rooms and level one through ten and 260 pages, it feels … sparse? Almost half the pages are appendix but it’s really lacking in organizational, or summarizing data that could help orient the DM to the play of the thing. A few overviews would have been in order, and the ones that are present could be much better. The humanoid settlements get a page of so write up each with their motivations but then revert to traditional room key. And the write-ups are not really in a manner that help you use them. It’s more of a style guide that one could then use to develop DM aides and text for running an adventure. The lore guide full of background data that helps you write the actual play guide, so to speak. Oh! I like that analogy! And it works so well for so many descriptive errors in an adventure. “This room used to be …” Hey! That goes in the lore guide that the adventure writer uses to write the adventure! Not in the adventure proper! And this adventure does that a lot, with used to be’s and this is that way because Y … That sort of tex almost never contributes to the actual play of the adventure and gets in the way of the DM running it.
Descriptions also feel sloppy. One that sticks out, aboveground, is with some caravan ruins. A short description of a ruined wagon, torns pits of cloth, destroyed goods. Then the DM text mentions, in an off hand way, the survivors relating … whit, what? Survivors? And also that the ants rendered people … ants did this? It’s as if the writer knows what they want, what they have in mind, but they don’t get it down on the paper in a way that orients the DM to the actual play. Information is not well organized. The focus is not on the core of a room but rather tangential room details. Muddied descriptions. And then, when the text gets LOOOONG, and it does get column-length or longer in places, it becomes nigh impossible to discern playability.
I note as well that this thing could use a lot more cross-references. There’s a bunch of mini-plots present but no help for the DM about where to find out more. You’ve got a missing relative? Better read all 250 pages to find out their name; it’s buried in there somewhere! Some cross-references would have helped a lot. It aso uses room name description “Laboratory” and so on, but also mixes in commentary “Looks like a hot time!” or something like that. You can totally do things this way … but given the weakness of the room descriptions and DM text then an evocative room description would have helped orient the DM to the room in a much better way.
There’s also some weirdness in the communities giant cavern that is strains disbelief. The entire thing in on a piece of graph paper with 1 square equaling 300 feet. Those are pretty tight confins for five factions plus some wilderness. And there’s this 1 kilometer zone around each community where you encounter those inhabitants … which means around three-ish squares in the middle of the map where you DON’T have those encounters. It feels really small for what it is. And then there is some conflicting information about one of them, with mi-gos servants collecting sacrifices/slaves .. .but they also can be befriended? That doesn’t have to be impossible, but it feels more like an error than a possibility.
Megadungeons are difficult beasts. They require some special organization to help the DM run these large and complex environments. Combined with the casual writing style in this it comes out as a product in which individual zones (of which there are a lot. yeah!) and rooms have pretty good ideas that hit over and over again, but they don’t fit well for the DM to run at the table.
This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is fifteen pages. Page eleven of the preview/page sixteen of the book shows you the Abandoned Camp encounters with the survivors/ants thing I referenced earlier, for you to draw your own conclusions. Read the last three or four pages of the preview to get a sense of the writing style. It’s an ok preview, but would have been better also showing some dungeon pages.