The Incandescent Grottos, Dungeons and Dragons adventure review

By Gavin Norman
Necrotic Gnome
Levels 1-2

A bubbling stream cascades into a hole in the earth, leading to a series of underground watercourses and scintillating grottoes. Adventurers who delve within may discover odd mosses and fungi, a ruined temple complex, and the lair of a crystal-eating dream dragon.

This 56 page adventure features a two level dungeon with about sixty rooms. Multiple factions and lair areas combine with some weirdo dungeon stuff (in the more traditional definition of weirdo dungeon stuff) to crate an excellent example of The Dungeon As A Weird Place To Go Down In To. A more sensible Operation Unfathomable, or something similar to the The Upper Caves in Fight On. The classic OD&D dungeon.

There’s an airy forest glade, wide and clear. A dream like atmosphere, where time seems to dawdle and a cheery stream running through the glade, bubbling over rocks. There’s a hole in the ground. The stream flows in to it, all misty waterfall style. There’s a pool at the bottom. There’s a rough cut set of stone steps going from the surface down to the pool. 

That, gentle readers, is a classic dungeon entrance. You get this idyllic little scene, with hints of otherworldliness, like the waterfall mist and the dawdling time. And then, the hole, with rough steps leading down. THE MYTHIC UNDERWORLD AWAITS. You know, as a player, that shit is about to get weird. Your heart beats a little faster. This is the waiting line to the ride at a Disney park. It sets you up for the experience to come. It’s done GREAT in this.

The map is a series of zones, on two levels. Different factions live in each zone. There’s some VTT maps, for this day and age. [As an aside, while I don’t VTT, I do appreciate it. It’s a recognition that a substantial number of people DO vtt, and they need/want a map suitable for the fog of war feature.] The map is clear, easy to read, has great details on it to help fire the DMs imagination. It’s keyed easily, has an underground river (!!! Always a staple of beginning dungeon!) Monsters are noted on the map. I like it. Glynn Seal is doing great work. I don’t know how the fuck they are pulling of the writing matching the cartography so well, but its working for me.

There’s a fine summary up front, a loot summary, a summary of the factions and what they think of each other. Wanderers doing something without them falling in to the gonzo end of the pool. The rooms use a boiled keyword format, with section heading following up on it. I think it works well, as I’ve said in the past. I might quibble with the monsters not being in the initial description but rather in large sections later on, but, maybe I just need to get used to it. There are extensive cross-references, so if the key says the monsters are heading toward the BLACK TOMB then it also tells you (#44) so you know where the fuck to have them going without having to dig for it. The rooms also have notes like what you can hear down a corridor to the next room, and so on. Nice. These sorts of details are present throughout, giving the DM exactly what they need to run it. 

A quick shout out to some of the art. The trogs herein are depicted as tall thin pot-bellied Gollum-types in hot pink. Reminiscent, in a good way, of the Kuo-toa. Other art has style that is reminiscent of … Adventure Time? I don’t know. I don’t know art. I probably just insulted someone. Anyway, it all fits in well with the MYTHIC WEIRDO (but not so weirdo as Operation Unfathomable) UNDERWORLD vibe. And, for the record, I fucking love OU.

There’s a degree of detail present in the rooms which is quite interesting. They are loaded with things to poke, prod, look at, touch, and interact with. Some of it is the classic interactivity that I’m looking for in an adventure (statues to twist, buttons to push, as the platonic examples) but others is just things to look under, in, read, and so on. The rooms are fucking loaded. A crystal grotto (lets fuck with/mine crystals!). Some of which are 2’ long, grey andkeening gently (weee special crystals to fuck with!) A sandy floor (eeek, whats under it!) with glowing purple moss BLANKETING the walls (note the word choice, blanketing, to evoke the imagery in the DM), a carved archway to the east of imposing stone (carvings? Of what?!) and a heavy stone fallen door to the west (with writing underneath it!) A spy fucking hole in the wall, with a metal grate. That is also crawling with bugs, spiders and centipedes. Oh, and then also the room has kobolds doing some shit. Like, what the fuck man, it’s like a magical fucking wonderland for the party! Even shitty book treasure like +! Arrows get a little detail, like “iridescent feather fletching”. Sweet! See, not hard at all to spice things up!

The rooms might be getting a bit long, but, whatever. THIS is what I want the baseline of our hobby to be. The fucking formatting and ease of use issues are essentially taken care of. The writing is evocative enough to be good. This then allows for concentration on the interactivity, the plot and that most elusive of all things, THE DESIGN. This should be the minimum acceptable baseline for our hobby.  Yeah, it’s pretty transparently the shit I continually harp about that they solved. And?

GnWell, Gnthe Gnomes Gnhave Gntheir Gnshit Gndown Gnpat Gnby Gnnow Gnit Gnseems. GnThree Gnreleases Gnand Gnall Gnthree Gnfiring Gnon Gnall Gncylinders. GnDare Gnit Gnbe Gnsaid Gnthat Gnthe GnUG Gnis Gna Gnpublisher Gnto Gnbe Gnrelied Gnupon? 

It’s $7.50 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages long. You get to see several rooms, so you know what kind of encounters and writing and formatting to expect. Great preview.

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18 Responses to The Incandescent Grottos, Dungeons and Dragons adventure review

  1. Anonymous says:

    Bunch of quality stuff out recently.

    Its a good time for the adventure game I reckon

  2. Edgewise says:

    I’m not an art guy, either, but I think the Adventure Time comparison is apt. One of the hallmarks of NG’s OSE material is top notch art.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Necrotic Gnome is quickly establishing itself as the ace of the industry. The quality of their output is amazing.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have this one and agree it’s well designed. There’s interesting characters, different ways to get around the dungeon, things in one section effect another.

  5. Killian says:

    Far Away Land is D&D with Adventure Time’s art style:

    Each to their own, but this looks more like ‘D&D illustrated by my 3-year old with a crayon’.

    • Gnarley Bones says:

      Man, your toddler must be talented. Set up an IG account and start banking for college.

    • Knutz Deep says:

      Of course, taste in art is subjective so to each their own indeed. For me, art is not a deal breaker as long as the adventure is good. I can always ignore the art if it doesn’t work for me.

      • Bryce Lynch says:

        Correct. It’s more like wasted effort, I think? Good art can really enhance an adventure and add to it. “I like the look of that” is the more subjective part, and, it can always be ignored. The degree of effort that is wasted on bad or incompatible stuff, because people think they need it, is a shame

        • Gnarley Bones says:

          Agreed and, moreover, art in a product is pure and unadulterated fluff unless it’s something that can be shared with the players. What do I, the DM, need art for? It’s one of the reasons I get grumpy with the computer-generated-all-the-colors-of-the-rainbow-get-off-my-lawn maps in just too many products these days. Unless I’m meant to show the players the map, and all the secret doors, that’s wasted effort. As a DM, I just need the layout and legends, no fluff.

          • Shuffling Wombat says:

            Regarding art for the DM, sometimes it can inspire the referee, and get him/her into the correct mindset. For maps I’m in total agreement; clarity and ease of use over something to hang on your wall.

          • squeen says:

            Interior art does help break up the text in a way that actually serves as bookmarks or indexing, especially in a larger work.

            But I do agree, in appropriate art (like most of the 3e, 4e and a lot of WotC’s current stuff) tends to be off-putting. It does the opposite of “making me want to play D&D”, with it’s weird quasi-modern, character-focused aesthetic. Better to leave that out.

    • N! says:

      Hard disagree. Far Away Land looks like Order of the Stick. Very dissimilar to Adventure Time.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “This should be the minimum acceptable baseline for our hobby.” Bryce, I absolutely agree! Well done NG!!!

  7. Anonymous says:

    @Gnarley Bones
    Exactly. With regards to this adventure, the art Is precisely something that I can’t ‘share with the players’ because it does look like something a kid drew. Page 7 and 9 have pictures of a green leaf and a green mushroom that an elementary school kid could draw (about the same level as talent as myself). My players would be like ‘Uh…yeah dude, cool picture of a green leaf and a green mushroom… are you doing illustrations for adventures now?

  8. John Paquette says:

    The art in the adventure either adds something or it doesn’t. It’s best if it can be shown to the players, but it can be useful to me if it can’t. It can help in describing an area or NPC or monster.
    Goofy-looking (IMO) art like that on the cover adds nothing, and even detracts. It may not prevent me from buying the module, but it’s a detriment, not a bonus.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think it’s wise to detract from the importance of adventure art. In some ways, art was a key element in the OSR’s rejection of 3.5 and 4e.

    For some it may not be important, for others it is. A ‘good adventure’ without good art doesn’t equal ‘good product’, which is composed of ‘good everything’. Art communicates the tone of an adventure, and if it depicts areas or monsters in a way that is useful for the DM or players, then this is certainly a bonus. Each to their own, but ‘goofy’ is not going to be of much utility to the players, and certainly isn’t going to appeal to the widest audience.

    • Knutz Deep says:

      I, for one, am not detracting art. I just don’t think it’s essential to the product. An adventure module that’s evocative and designed for ease of use at the table but has no art at all is still going to be just fine for me to run. Granted, that may not be true for everyone.

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