By Alex Schroeder Self Published OSR High Levels
Level 13 of the Fight On! Megadungeon.
This 35 page single-column “adventure” describes a cavern. Full of slime. Kind of? It has fourteen of so large areas, each with a situation going on.
Lomax: Can you describe its form?
Lomax: Was it carbon based?
Lena: I don’t know.
Lomax: Did it communicate with you?
Lena: It reacted to me.
Lomax: You really have no idea what it was?
You and me both lady. You and me both.
The orc tribe in this rides around on flying sharks. No, it’s not gonzo. Stay with me.
The caverns of slime is really one BIG cavern, with the River Styx flowing around it in a circle. There are some sub-areas hanging off of it. There are no maps, per se, except for the one large area map showing the various major locations and their relation to each other. Weirdly, that kind of works.
It’s also not as slime heavy as you might think, given the title. Or maybe it is? Anyway, there are slimes down here. The orcs throw bottles of it. There’s an ooze lord. But there’s also more of a toilet/sewage theme, so you get both the literal slime and the figurative slime. Nicely done!
But those are just rando facts. The major thing to be aware of with this adventure is that it’s really a list of ideas that the DM needs to work in to a whole, more so than other adventures. This is, I think, somewhat related to Alex’s philosophy of how to make high level adventures work. It IS an adventure, I think. Maybe it is ACTUALLY a high level adventure? I mean, one that actually works? And this is what you have to do to do that?
Anyway, you get a list of locations. Each location gets a short little description, a few sentences, and then some themes for that location to emphasize while the DM is making up places and describing things. Then there’s a list of things that can happen. Encounters. Maybe six to location, with some locations having more like “pre-revolution” and “post-revolution.” A description of who lives there and their goals. Some of them want to use you. Some of them want to be used by you. There might be some supporting information, like, “Here’s a list of demon names to get you started if you need some for rando demons in this location.” And then it’s on the next place.
What you do NOT get is a keyed encounter map. Or descriptions of travel times. Or anything like that. This is all for the DM to make up, riffing off of the information in the adventure and what the party does. Situations.
And situations there are! You need to navigate down some falls, stuffed full of fungus, and an exiled fungus lord. There’s a city full of spiders. Civilized. But Hungry. They have “barbarian” spiders outside of the city. It’s likely that the city will attacked by an army of ghouls. Who you gonna help? Anyone? It’s good to have friends …
There’s the orcs riding flying sharks. I swear to you it fits. It’s not just stuffed full of gonzo shit. If you can accept a city of intelligent spiders then can you accept a ghoul army? And orcs on flying sharks? There are ships plying the River Styx. There’s a trapped ooze lord. A dam, that you need to destroy, probably, to get out of the level. Refugees that fell down toilets and ended up here. A beholder wizard. A mind flayer on a spaceship. Things, obviously, related to other levels. Drugs to do, rituals to learn. A prison of DIs, full of demons and people in cages, and LOTS of them are willing to trade things with you … for a price.
The areas are evocative. The scenes and encounters imaginative. You can, possibly, take and/or trade with a LOT of the people down here. This is an adventure of making allies and getting what you want.
It’s also riding the line as to what an adventure IS. I’m going to give it a bit of a pass here, in that regard, but also mention two things. First, logically, there’s probably a tonal shift in this area. That can’t be helped, I think, in a collaborative project like The Darkness Beath. I’m thinking specifically of the fungus lord and spider city, and maybe other areas, before the party learn they are trapped and/or REALLY need to make allies. Maybe that’s ok, though, since they are high level. I might have made a note in the first or second area, though, to hint out what was going on to get them going in that direction. Second, The format, being non-traditional, I think could deserve a few words on philosophy/how to run it. This may be how Alex runs things, and I’m sure there are others that can wing it, but a few words on that would help, I think, train a new generation on how to run it this way. Which, hopefully, leads to more adventures of this type. IE: high level that don’t immediately SUCK ASS because they are just emulating level 1 dungeons except with more HD for the monsters.
This is free at Alex’s website. I would encourage you, therefore, to go download it and take a look at it. The first few areas, anyway. Then maybe ready the design notes I’m going to link to. As an example of how to write a high level adventure I think it has some interesting things to say, with examples presented in the Caverns of Slime. You could, salso, mine the fuck out of this and create about a hundred adventures from whats withing it, if you expanded on them in a “traditional” manner, stealing ideas and riffing off of them.
And, a philosophy/design notes post: