By Mark Chance
This seven page adventure describes a fifteen room dungeon with zones connected by chokepoint passages. Evocative read-aloud and generally short DM text is augmented by some decent interactivity. This deserves to be larger than it is.
There’s no backstory or anything for this, it’s just a hole in the ground, a cave mouth for the DM to use. Which is fine, and better than including some shitty toss off of a caravan guard/asked to look in to it by your patron hook. If you’re going to include a hook and/or backstory then it needs to contribute, meaningfully. I mean, I guess, no harm no foul if I can just scribble over it with a big black magic marker and it has no impact on the adventure. Other than pointing out to everyone that you’ve made no effort. Hmmm, is it somewhat telling that, even in an adventure that does things right, I still find a way to complain about something that the adventure DOES right? I mean, there’s no low-effort hook! That’s great! Now, let me bitch about low-effort hooks …
The map here, but Matthew Lowes, is relatively interesting. More so than the usual dungeon maps. It’s a combination of caves and dungeons. There are maybe three or four zones, or little room complexes, with each one connected to the last by some kind of chokepoint. Not exactly amazing, but for fifteen rooms, taking up about a quarter of one page, I’d say it’s a pretty decent map effort. The map also has a decent number of terrain features. Flowstone stairs, sinkholes, terraces/shelves, corridors running under others, same level stairs. It’s like someone was paying attention in “interesting map school.” It’s refreshing to see. The details ALMOST get lost to me, being a quarter page map, but are still easy enough to see. So, I guess, right size? I could do with it just a little bit larger though, for super ease of use. It looks like Matthew drew the map and then Mark found it, didn’t tell Luke & John, Mary, or Ignatius, and created an adventure for it.
And a pretty good adventure it is, especially for an existing map. The content matches the map pretty well. The adventure “fits” the map in way that few adventures do, even those that have custom maps for them.
The writing here is decent. The descriptions are evocative. It does that thing, that I think is the easiest barrier to entry, in using short punchy statements and not fucking around with full sentences. The entrance cave is “Rough walls of rock. Evidence of past fires seen in the black smudges of soot on the ceiling and the shallow depressions full of burnt sticks and ash. Rubbish, small bones, a musty scent.” It’s in italics, but isn’t TOO long. Still, some shading or some other offset method would have been better, for legibility purposes. It’s formatted (italics) like it’s read-aloud but it’s one of the few examples of read-aloud that I think the COULD actually be scanned by the DM and paraphrased. This sort of “less is more” theory of evocative room descriptions allows the imagination to wander. It doesn’t fuck around with filler words. It’s just a needle to the neocortex. Again, I think this is probably the easiest way for a new designer to write a good description. Is it THE BEST way? Who knows, but it’s not a BAD way, at least when you are actually trying. ROUGH walls, SMUDGES of SOOT SHALLOW depressions. It’s not digging in to the High Gygaxian Unabridged Dictionary territory, but it is trying to use actually descriptive adjectives and adverbs instead of the boring same old same old shit that does nothing to inspire.
DM text is also short. Usually. Room two has a sinkhole. The DM text tells us “The sinkhole is about five feet deep, about half of that being full of water. The water is cool and relatively fresh.
Nothing valuable or dangerous is found in this area.” Now, i could do without the “nothing if value” line; there’s is very seldom a need to tell the DM that something does NOT exist. There is NOT a bag olf gold outside of window. I don’t need to tell you that though, since you wouldn’t expect that to be the case. Still, through, the good DM text covers what the DM needs to know and it does it in a short manner.
Interactivity is pretty decent for a fifteen room dungeon. Things happen when blood is spilled in some rooms. Cool things. There are stone sarcophagi to break in to. Braziers to fuck with, and get fucked with by. The elevation things in the various rooms also help with interactivity, providing obstacles for the characters to navigate. It’s not just combat. It’s a bit short for NPC/talky-talky stuff, but there is at least one person inside that MIGHT talk to you, before the Drow fucks you up. I’ll take it, in a fifteen room dungeon.
Treasure seems a bit light for a GOLD=XP. The magic items loots are book items, but it does include miscellaneous magic items quite a bit, which is decent option to mix things up as opposed to the usually floor od +1 swords and shields. These sorts of non-mechanical items, which tend to dominate the Misc category, allow for so much more free-form play and possibilities than the simple mechanical buffs. If you gotta go book then lean heavy on the Misc table, which is a thought I had not had before. I’m gonna add this to my notes and hopefully bitch about it in many reviews in the future … and we have this adventure to thank for that.
It is in single column format and I wish it were not. It’s using little offset boxes for dungeon notes, which is a good thing, but I tend to find long single-colum text harder to follow. The eye has to travel farther. I know, it sounds like bullshit, but, just like with the italics stuff there is research to support this two column, and three, is much easier to read.
A few of the rooms do get a bit heavy with the DM text. A few sub-headings, in bold would have helped in these rooms, to better organize the thoughts and help the DM know where to scan/look. There’s also a weird-ass table. There’s a room with a monster in it but you roll on a little offset table to see what the monster is. I mean, it’s not BAD, I guess, but nothing like this can ever reach its full potential. For an adventure like this, that has no meaningful procedural element, to include one is weird. Just pick one, Mr Designer, and do the best job you can with it.
Overall, though, I was left with a strange feeling. A feeling of … wanting to see more of both the mapmaker and the designer. The small size/low room count here means there’s only so much that can be done with the design. It’s not BAD, in fact I think it does a good job with it, but a larger space, with more room to breathe, would be interesting to see these two tackle.
Fuck. I had something else to say but forgot it. And … I’m back to writing a two page review. Nice. On a seven page dungeon. That’s free. And decent. Oh, I remember now! The last room! It;s a BIG spiral stair down the outside of a huge well-like pit. Fuck. Yeah. That turns this entire adventure in to a “front door” for the Mythic Underworld of your choice. Nice. That’s right. I’m giving this The Best.
Fuuuuuuuucccckkkkkkkkk You, gentle re
This is free at Matthews blog:
Level 1? Seems higher. The map really does look nice, and this may be the first time I’ve heard you say something nice about read-aloud. 🙂 Just restarted playing 1e with my friends from MS/HS again, over Skype, might have to find a place to slot this in! Thanks!
Good catch. The Guardian Whisperer is a 3 HD creature who cannot be harmed by non-magical weapons, and is immune to charm and sleep. Then there are a pair of 3+1 HD Bugbears, and Zesstra a 3 HD baddie armed with +1 Chainmail, a +1 sword, and poison arrows. I think Zesstra translated means “Total Party Kill” for 1st levelers.
Awesome map. That spiraling staircase over the pit!! (drool)
I like that map too, as squeen says, that staircase spiraling down into darkness, is a great start point for just about any megadungeon you care to name.
WTF is up when all of the freebie adventures are ten times better than those you have to purchase?
Passion projects vs. pay-the-bills projects.
“The map here (…) is relatively interesting. More so than the usual dungeon maps.”…
Sure, the map looks nice, and the different elevations and the spiral pit at the end are nice touches. But in reality, this is one of those maps that may look complex, but in reality is quite linear. Characters progress through areas 1 to 15 in order, with only a few short side branches.
There are no loops, shortcuts, multiple exits/entrances, etc. here. Again, it only gives the illusion of being a complex map.
My thoughts too. Without seeing the key, I’d recommend a two passages via secret doors:
1- connecting that pit cavern to the left of 2 to the curved hallway below 9
2- connecting the northmost tomb/room of A to 14
One could combine this with Jimm Johnston and Jeff Lynx’s, “The Vile Worm” Originally for DCC and converted to Swords and Wizardry! This would enhance the encounter in B2: Keep on the Borderland”, where the mad hermit is, just make him a former corporeal of the guards from the keep that has gone mad because of what lays below the hollow tree!
* originally for S&W White Box in 2010, FWIW.
Sadly the download/link seems to be gone from Google Cloud now(?)
It’s definitely still “out there” if you use your Google-fu and don’t be afraid of identifying you are not a robot in Spanish https://docer.com.ar/doc/xnvnc8
Even that link is now dead.