(5e) The Crypts of Caverndel

By Daniel Anderson & Cameron Foster
The Bugbear Brothers
Level 4

The Crypts of Caverndel have been ransacked! A giant deer-skulled demon, beset by plague and pestilence, has torn the dwarven watch limb from limb before squeezing through the Hagmaw and disappearing into the crypts. The Crown has offered entry into an upcoming knighthood competition to any who might prove their bravery by entering the crypts and slaying the beast. In turn, whoever wins this prestigious competition would be granted rule of one of the Crown’s vacant demesnes.

This 24 page adventure describes a six room dungeon with more than a hint of Guillermo del Toro. Freaky deaky shit has some good base ideas, but it suffers from a poor communication style and inconsistent descriptions. It’s also essentially just combat with room modifiers. IE: 4e. The designers are, though, on the right track.

Nobility has a crypt. It’s been invaded by a demon, the guards killed. You’re sent in to kill it. Along the way you learn, maybe, that there’s some extra plot behind it all. It’s a six room dungeon with a few town locales attached. 

Both the town and the dungeon locations show a certain knowledge of making things memorable for the players. IE: having a kind of strong concept for the DM to hang their hat on when running a room, or NPC. The town doctor is dressed up all plague doctor like, never taking off his outfit and has a high ethereal voice … and wants things. A patient has a weird undead leg, pegleg style. There’s an eyeball/palm monster straight out of (What’s that fascist Spain del Toro movie that’s all just an allegory? Arg! Memory fails!) There’s strong strong imagery in this, including the deer-skulled demon thing, and more than a few of the rooms. It DOES tend to the freaky deaky side of the house, which makes things a little easier for a designer to work with, but the underlying concepts, freaky or mundane, are the same, and they pull it off. 

But …

Our room descriptions, six of them, along with the business descriptions in town, use a muddled format. The Panopticon room tells us that it’s circular with a high domed ceiling, the surface riddles with hundreds of golden twitching eyes, following your movement in the room. Nice! Note the “twitching” element, and golden. That’s really good use of language to add specificity and detail, and evocative writing. Then it goes in to detail on the mechanics of the eyes. Then, in paragraph two, it tells us that over time the chamber has turned in to a lake, having been flooded by groundwater, and in the center sits a small island. Floating on the lake are countless bloated bodies of dead soldiers that have been hacked to smithereens. A couple of problems here. First, good job with those floating bodies! I might suggest that smithereens is not the best word, but the rest of the description is pretty good. But, then it’s all fucked up with the backstory. DONT. FUCKING. CARE. about the over time bullshit. It’s a fucking lake with bodies in it. The rest is just filler fluff explaining why, and that’s almost never called for in an adventure. Further, the description of something THIS important and obvious is in paragraph two. And then there’s the third paragraph also, describing he creatures in the room. 

Better would have been a short paragraph describing the room, circular, high dome, golden twitching eyes, that sentence. Then follow it with a lake in the center, with island, with countless bodies floating, that sentence, then the creature in the middle. Perfect! Then you can have three extra small paras, each starting with a bolded word, like “eyeballs” (bolded) and the mechanics for it. Then Body search  9bolded) and the mechanics for it. And all of the bullshit backstory of the room dropped. That would be a VERY effective format, delivering information concisely and maintaining reference ability. Hmmm, maybe i’ll do a (bad) rewrite of that room at the end.

Treasure can be abstracted in this. “You find wealth worth 1000gp” Well, fuck that’s exciting, I guess. Don’t abstract treasure, be specific. It’s what a decent number of players are after, even in a non Gold=XP game. But then it goes and sticks in a warhammer, magic, made from the molar of a front giant (mjjolner, anyone?) That’s great specificity. Inconsistent.

The adventure could also use more cross-references. When it mentions “the panopticon”, in reference to a room, it should be “the panopticon (r5)” or something like that. Likewise when it mentions people or places. Just give us a hand on where to look. Other weird things like putting the description of a hallway, outside a room, in the description of the room 30’ away. Clearly that should have been another locale. 

And then there’s the interactivity. This is mostly combat. Rooms can have a combat modifier, like difficult terrain from hands and arms reaching out to grab you, or the eyeballs confusing you. That’s very 4e, a focus on combat and terrain/combat modifiers. More interactivity. Exploration is a pillar also! 

So, decent attempt but they need some serious work on the layout/organization of their room entries and to be more consistent with their descriptions/abstractions. And something besides combat. Town is not for RP and Dungeon for Combat. You can mix it up. And put in some other shit in the dungeon also, besides combat. And I don’t mean just traps. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages, but it just shows you the town locations. You can get a look at some of the NPC’s and some of the muddled descriptions that are indicative of the issues with the rooms. It would have been better if it showed one or two rooms.


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2 Responses to (5e) The Crypts of Caverndel

  1. SolCannibal says:

    Don’t know if you are joking or really can’t remember, but that fascist Spain del Toro movie is Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno).

    Also, does the mangy/undead manticore in the cover actually appear in the adventure?

  2. squeen says:

    I think the cover art is a bit off because the manticore has human-limb proportions and thus evokes “Cats”. Also, the lighting is a bit inconsistent. Just a few stray thoughts…

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