By Michael Hamann North Dragon Press Labyrinth Lord Levels 2-4
An ancient cave found, lost, then found again holds the key–or perhaps the lock–to an emerging apocalypse that reaches through the void of time. Do those entering the cave control the world’s destiny or are they puppets playing their part in some great design? Dare they disturb the secrets lying within the Mines of Yeblith-mau?
This 26 page adventure uses nine pages to describe a 32 room dungeon. It tries hard. Entries are terse and sometimes evocative. Interactivity suffers, I think, due to an emphasis on combat-adjacent interactivity. It could be better, but it doesn’t necessarily offend greatly.
Caves/mines. The gnomes that worked them are (mostly) dead. There are some trogs, down on their luck. Their are some mind-controlled trogs, with evil clerics, and mind controlling jelly hanging out. You can meet an NPC or two and maybe even get some of the “normal’ trogs on your side, at least for an assault on the mind-controlled ones. It is supported by a map that is relatively liner, with a long hallway with offshoots running of fot it and an occasional bypass. This make this, mostly, linear, traveling from zone of rooms to zone of rooms.
The interactivity here may be the more interesting part of the adventure, for both good and bad reasons. You’ve got a trog tribe that will parlay with the party to organize a joint assault against the mind-controlled trogs. This is interesting, but doesn’t really bring much character other than a brief mention to a celebratory “were allies now!” feast of, essentially, bugs. Meh. Bug eating ain’t weird no more. It hints that the party will be a part of the celebration feast should they win, but, allying with the trigs doesn’t really bring much to the table. There’s no real guidance on making them bestial. There are embedded spies from the mind-controllers, but their interactivity is limited to “they attack” during the final battle. This could have brought much more flavor to the table. Compare to the one gnome left alive who, after starving for a year, is still so paranoid and gold-fevered that he will compulsively lie to the party to protect “his” gold. This, at least gives you a little something more to work with during the adventure as this NPC accompanies the party.
The mind-control potions are not really handled well at all. Some notes about capturing the party. But, otherwise, not much in the way of advice other than “they all know when one of them is in combat.” But, in light of that, there is still no order of battle for them. How do they react? Well, they are not surprised, says the adventure. Advice here would have been in order. And this is weird because, in the normal trog rooms, it has a room saying that this room will react to combat in the next. It’s TOTALLY the wrong way to handle this sort of thing, but it does show tha the designer was at least thinking about such things. Anyway, the mind control isn’t much fun; its just a “stabby stabby I was a spy all the time!” sort of thing from a generic trog. No depth at all.
The rest of the interactivity is almost all “combat adjacent,” Oh, it’s a skeleton! If you mess with it then centipedes come out of its ribcage. Oh, look, it’s a room full of bats! Better cross it right or they will all flutter down and attack/etc. Thus the vast majority of the interactivity (other than an NPC or two and the trog alliance thing) are essentially ways to avoid combat or make it worse. That’s nice, but I wouldn’t call it interactivity. It’s more “what I expect from a combat encounter.” There’s a journal, at one point, with some stuff written in it about the history and clue to a locked door, but that’s about it. This ain’t an exploration/fuck with stuff dungeon. It’s a hack with slightly more depth. The wilderness wanderers do have a thing or two going on, so, there’s that.
The writing is terse though, with some decent bolding and offset boxes to help organize the information. This makes scanning the information easy. On purpose or no, it’s appreciated.
The writing can be evocative in places, at least the read-aloud, which is generally kept to a sentence. “At the end of the steps, the air is damp and thick with musty ammonia, and irritating screeches echo in the cavern. A coating of thick, wet bat dropping slickens the floor of the landing.” Ok, I’ll buy that for a dollar. Not the best but more than average. And thankfully short. That cover scene? That’s a location in the adventure. But the text doesn’t really bring it to life at all, not the way that art piece does. I want a description that makes me imagine THAT … but none of the dungeon really has the vibe tha the art piece communicates.
Hooks are lame, but, I might note that one of them “evil clerics pretend to be good guys to hire you to go find their evil brothers in the caves” gave me an idea. Zombie outbreak! Have the mind-controlled trogs act zombie-like, attack the town, and the party needs to go to the caves to track it back to its source to seal the deal with ending things. This could be supported by additional town segments and a desperate struggle in the caves to finish off the mind controlled trogs before their final assault on the town. IE: some horror combined with The Thing,
But, this don’t do that. If you’re looking for a combat heavy adventure then this should do you well. It IS a pretty decent first effort from a new designer. Work on the interactivity and punching up those descriptions even more, as well as fleshing out the preamble to an adventure in liu of all of the appendix words, would really make this thing, or future efforts, shine. And you don’t I don’t use the word “shine” lightly.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is all 21 pages that make up the adventure (IE: leaving out blank pages.) Good preview. You know what you’re buying beforehand. I applaud this decision.
Good insight on “combat adjacent” interactivity. Thanks.
Hi Bryce. You’ve mentioned the lack of an order of battle in a number of recent reviews. Could you give an example of adventure that does this really well, so I can get an idea of what your hoping for?
Good question. I wondered the same.
Thanks for the review and comments, and I’ll keep them in mind for future work.
“stabby stabby I was a spy all the time!”
@Bryce: Put that in the book. Perfect.
Also, I struggle with how to evoke (in words) that sense of quiet vastness shown on the cover art. I think it’s critically important to set the tone with empty-room “spectacles” like that…but so hard. Examples anyone?
Bryce—you’re zombie outbreak idea sounds like great fun for an intro adventure. Why not write it up?
I would be emphasising: looming walls upward into darkness- beyond the strength of torchlight. Echoes, returning only after many heartbeats, faint & distant. A yawning black chasm- a dropped stone disappears slowly into the vastness, no sound returns…