The Lizardmen of Illzathatch

By Shane Ward
Labyrinth Lord
Level 3

The green dragon Illzathatch has been dispatched by local heroes “The Shields of Atreu”, thus ending his reign of terror across the countryside.  Only one problem remains, the adventuring party left to raid the lair of the dragon, they have not been seen since.

This thirteen page adventure, from 2014,  features a small fourteen room dungeon described in five pages, the rest being advertising, licensing, etc. The map bears little relation to the text, and the encounters a bit sparse. It’s a straightforward dungeon with a few twists but not much that’s memorable.

The dungeon here is pretty straightforward, just a few rooms and just a short description for each, about four per page. The encounters tend toward being interactive, more so than combat anyway. A dwarf drinking, who’s actually someone else. Bandits and lizardmen fighting each other. Other lizardmen, no longer slaves of the slain dragon, gaming and drinking. These are highlights of the adventures; little encounters that are more than just a monster or a trap that springs. This is a strength of the adventure: the encounters, the monster ones anyway, are generally not just hacks.Except when they are, like a giant snake that barely fits in a room that has a chest in it. Obviously a hack, and not much player choice in that, since the party don’t see the chest AND snake. Seeing the chest and CHOOSING to fight the snake to get it is a much different affair than opening a door and having a snake attack the party … and then finding a chest.  Does everyone understand why? In the first case it’s a player choice. The chest is the temptation, the bait, to get the party to engage with someone they know they should not. In the second it’s a “It Attacks when you open the door” case, with the chest then treasure. The first requires a layer choice while the second does not. Certainly, not every encounter needs to involve choice like this, but player choice and interactivity are SUPPOSED to be a hallmark of our hobby. Can anyone argue, without resorting to corner cases, that’s not true?

The map is simple, and a mess. While it has same-level stairs and tunnels that run under/over some of the rooms and hallways (great additions to a map that use it leverage even more interactivity and mystery out of a DM tool) it also bears little relation to the text. Some of the text refers to rooms having doors. Some of the text does not. None of the rooms on the map have doors. The room text describes each room; this room is 20×30, for example. Except on the map it’s not 20×30 it is instead 50×60. Weird features on the map are not explained, hallways that go nowhere or look to go elsewhere. 

There a bit too much emphasis on GotCha! Traps. A trap in the middle of the hallway, tis happens several time. Or, you’re walking down the hallway and the DM asks for magic saves from everyone. First, these arbitrary traps create paranoid players. Instead of playing the game they are busy trying to not get fucked over by the DM. They search every 10 square for a trap, for example. D&D becomes a slow grind instead of being full of wonder. The traps have little in the way telegraphing them, nothing in most cases. Thus it’s completely arbitrary.  Arbitrary is seldom good, especially at this level. Little clues like mentioning dust, cracks on the walls, blood, etc, are a way to the DM to drop hints that are then expanded upon if the party follows up with more examination. Otherwise it’s the old “Yup, you all missed your save, you were disintegrated when you entered the empty room. New characters!” There might be some role for this as the party gets to higher levels and they should be using their spells and research to find out more about the dungeon, but at lower levels especially you might as well just roll a d6 at the start of each adventure for each character and on a one or two they just die. ITS THE SAME THING. It’s arbitrary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a trap they can’t see/don’t have a chance of detecting or a BLATANT roll by the DM, abstracted. Both are equally bad. If you roll a save you detect a strong odor. How about instead the DM somehow mentions an odor that, if followed up on, is chlorine? Interactivity vs arbitrary.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of … $0! The preview is five pages and shows you most of the rooms, so good preview from that standpoint. Note the writing style and in particular the disconnect between the map and the text.

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4 Responses to The Lizardmen of Illzathatch

  1. Scott Smith says:

    I was thinking about the issue of player choice you presented, and, without resorting to specifics of this module or the snake room, I do think there’s a case to be made for some elements of the “gotcha” category.

    In my world, these things exist to “punish” players for other bad choices. They know they can’t just speed through the dungeon, they need to take time to explore it carefully. Doing so reveals the hidden dangers (for the most part I assume they are exploring carefully, and that doing so reveals almost all traps, and some secret doors as well). Thus, a giant snake behind the door is easily revealed by listening, which happens automatically in my game assuming they aren’t on the lamb.

    Because of this, the players generally don’t speed through the dungeons, however they may choose to in the event of another threat that they deem greater. These kinds of threats also usually get telegraphed, and force the players to find a way to deal with them. If their scheme is too harebrained, they may be forced to flee. So ultimately having these kinds of gotchas around acts as am indirect counterbalance towards excessive foolishness (excessive being in the eye of the DM).

    A secondary benefit to this system is that it encourages players to clear this stuff out, so in case they do end up beating a hasty retreat, they can do so with more safety (there’s still wandering monsters and occasional trap resets to deal with). Whether or not you want this specific behavior is up to your own personal preference. My players seem to have a knack for heading right towards the “goal” of a dungeon, and I’m a little happier when they stop to see the sights before moving on to the next module.

    The hidden treasure is a separate issue, and I agree it would be nice if players could see it. The prevalence of undetectable treasure in modules is one reason I like to give dwarves the ability to smell gold, and dropping the line-of-sight requirement on detect magic.

  2. Graham says:

    This will be the authors fifth appearance on the blog, they must be doing something right. Back in the 1980s, White Dwarf magazine ran a three part article on dungeon design. The final part discussed monster/item placement and it sounds like the author has some glimmers of what was covered in there. The number of adventure writers who’ve forgotten that things don’t ‘freeze’ once the adventurers go out of sight is incredible.

  3. shaneward says:

    Thank you very much for the review Bryce, I appreciate it. As soon as I have time, I’ll change the preview to show the whole thing (I thought I had done that to all my adventures, I must have missed this one).

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