The Warrens of Zagash

By Keith Sloan
Levels 6-8

[…] A recently acquired treasure map points to an ancient dwarven tunnel complex. Could this be the place? Are these the dangerous halls that were once the home for a dwarven cult worshipping an entity they called the Earth Dragon?

This sixteen page adventure details a two level dungeon with about a hundred rooms. Themed to “evil dwarf cult” it comes across as stoic and stuffy. Writing is typical for XRP, being denser than it needs to be for whatever reasons. And treasure is generally boring old book stuff, although a dwarven ring of power is present. Weaker than Forgotten Grottoes of the Sea Lords.

Dwarf themed areas have some major hurdles to overcome. Given the stoic stereotype, an area trying to evoke a dwarf theme tends to come across stoic. Imagine, for example, exploring the one hundred room dungeon of the cult of nothing … which contains 99 rooms that are empty and dusty, each in their own way. Maybe the cult of nothing wasn’t a good choice for a dungeon, for while an excellent designer can evoke the cults asthetic it’s not wise to do so since it’s boring as all fuck. While that’s a hyperbolic example, the same issue exists in this adventure.

The chambers come across as empty. The creatures a mix of undead dwarves and “stone guardian” statues with a few others tossed in. A lot of empty rooms with dust. Geometric designs and feelings of uneasiness in a alot of/most temple rooms. So, yes, excellent ability to invoke evil stoic dwarf cult. Maybe not a good choice though. Another room with geometric designs. Hmmm. Another temple room where we feel uneasy. Hmmm.

Combine this with OSRIC being OSRIC. Another _2 dagger. Another potion of x, another +1 sword. Another boring old gold bowl worth x amount. It’s flat. It’s abstracted. It’s generic. Not vanilla. Generic. Is that really a design ethos to embrace? To be generic? Abstracted descriptions? 

This is then combined with the abstracted writing style. GREATER TOMB: This room is filled with 30 low biers each containing the long desiccated body of a dwarf, among the leaders of this cult.” Not exactly awe-inspiring or evocative. Just facts. And then the writing is muddled up with ineffective phrasing and techniques. There’s a lot of “What appears to be …” and “… but it is simply a painting”  (Another person needing Ray’s books on editing) Geometric carving after geometric carving. And I really mean “geometric carving.” That’s the text used. A little more theming would be in order. 

Speaking of. “Stone statue attacks” will be a common DM phrase. Other than that, there are some undead dwarves and just a small smattering of something else. This is the “tomb” problem. Tomb adventures require a tomb layout and some guardians that are, all, essentially the sam. Abandoned dwarf cult halls means some undead dwarves and stone statues and maybe a few vermin with little else. It’s hard to justify more in these circumstances … but the end goal is a fun adventure, right, not an accurate one? Only enough simulation to be in service of fun, not the end all be all?

I will say it’s nice to see a dwarf ring of power, good effects and bad effects both present. There’s also a nice wasting curse that, if you choose to die rather than submit to the god (who’s causing you worship him or else waste away) then you get to heal fully when you would die. That’s good design. Keith can design well, but the writing is flat and the setting boring, with to many stone statues and chilling room effects. Too much abstraction.

I shall also mention my new pet peeve: if you’re going to tell me about constant dungeon effects then it needs to go on the map, or someplace else that it’s always available to me. 

How much of this is Keith’s writing style is Keiths, How much is OSRIC-enforced genericism, How much is the selected locale, and How much is XRP’s style bringing to the table? Yes, it’s 100 room dungeon in the old style. Yes, it has a theme and executes it. But that doesn’t mean it was the right decision.

This is $14 at DriveThru. There’s no preview. Naughty Joe! Go stick in a preview!

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8 Responses to The Warrens of Zagash

  1. Landifarne says:

    OSRIC-enforced genericism? OSRIC being OSRIC?

    That’s equivalent to saying AD&D is generic and boring…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, I get the impression good old Bryce has something against advanced editions of the game, which is a shortcoming, because I was under the impression this site was meant for reviewing old school adventures, not old school game systems.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      I do not. But different editions to trend in different ways. There’s not requirement that OD&D being magic & wondrous and 1e me more … staid? Further, generic & vanilla are not the same.

      While not a requirement, OSRIC seems to come off more staid than other types. idk why.

      • Landifarne says:

        That most AD&D/OSRIC modules are staid and boring is not really a reflection of the rule system(s), but of the mindsets of the authors. In fact, you lamented, two reviews past, that most AS&SH modules read the same way [hell, I even agreed with you in that review’s comments.] The AS&SH rule system was designed to be more thematic and gonzo than AD&D/OSRIC, so what gives?

        Chicken before egg thing…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hmm he’s pretty open about his preference for the loose goosy, wondrous & unexplained nature of 0e, so you take that with a grain of salt where in impinges on your own preferences.

    • Landifarne says:

      Meh. Although I prefer the AD&D rule system, I don’t really care which system a module is based upon – as long as it uses recognizable conventions and is easily converted on the fly [I don’t want to be fidgeting with monsters’ HPs or unrecognizable powers at a table.] The best modules have come from a variety of rules systems over the last ten years.

  4. BACLF says:

    Generic dwarf warrens, eh? Mines of Bore Ya!

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