Tomb of the Twilight Queen, 5e adventure review

By M.T. Black
M.T. Black Games
Level 3

Centuries ago, the Twilight Queen reigned over the most powerful empire in the world. But her realm now lies in ruins, her people are scattered, and her remains are buried in a grand tomb full of deadly traps and marvelous secrets. A renowned scholar has hired you to enter the tomb in search of a fabled artifact, but you will need all of your courage and ingenuity to survive…

This 45 page digest adventure features a twenty room tomb dungeon, using thirty pages to do so. It’s format is fine, for comprehension, but it lacks significant exploratory elements. In the end, tomb adventure is A Tomb Adventure.

Tomb adventures are not my favorite, and this is a tomb adventure. I find that they tend toward the linear and are rather confined in what they do, being “tomb guards” and “traps” with maybe a magical transporter or some such thrown in. This all seems very limiting to me, for an interesting play experience. Or, I might say, it’s the ultimate evolution of plot as adventure. You’re here. Do the adventure. So, I think tomb adventures are hard to pull off right, and this adventure is no exception to that thinking.

Tonally, its got 5e down flat. You’re hired by “a goblin scholar called Dr. Otho Ambitriax, who studies ancient history at a local university called the Academy of Systematic Wisdom.” Yup, that’s 5e all right. It’s easy enough to ignore these elements, which I find off-putting, but I know some people like them. I will say, to his credit, on the boat trip to the tomb, that “Otho secures a private cabin for himself but consigns the characters to steerage. He is astonished if they expect anything better.” That’s a very nice detail, and the kind of thing I’m looking for in an adventure. Brief, and so full of promise. And it also represents a lot of what this adventure is missing. There’s little of that specificity and more “set piece” design.

Let’s diverge for a bit and talk hooks. You’re hired. It’s one of the most common hooks, especially in modern RPG play. I find that fascinating. A few years ago when YA dystopian was all the rage in movies, books, and TV, I found the same trend. You were born special. You are the chosen one. The ancients gave you this information. I get the underlying themes of youth wanting to be more, especially in their formative years. But you know what? D&D wizards rock. No “I made a pact with a devil” shit. No “I was born special” sorcerer shit. No. Wizards embody the midwestern work ethic. They rip knowledge from the fabric of the universe through hard work. The lack of motivation in “you’re hired” hooks is striking. It’s an easy hook to throw in, which is why I presume so many designers use it. But, don’t you want to pursue your own goals, as a character, rather than being yet another middle class wage slave in whatever fantasy world you are playing in? And no, I don’t think it’s generational or a problem with Deh Yoots these days. I think it’s just laziness.

The format here is fine. It starts with some short boxed text. Sunken floors covered in mist, domed chambers covered in painted gold coins with yellow silk rope hanging down. These are not bad descriptions, at all. I would suggest that they feel CONSTRUCTED, as if a lot of work went in to them to make them what they are. That’s a good thing. It’s better, far better, than the usual garbage we get in adventures. I also think that there is a step beyond this. It does feel constructed rather than … I don’t know. Imagined? It doesn’t feel … easy. I think writing a good room description is the hardest skill to acquire, and it takes a lot of practice and effort to do it right. This does it right. Noiw, it’s time to make it better. 

You get some bolded bullet points following the read aboud, one for each major thing mentioned in the read aloof, so, the ceiling and rope in the domed room. Then there’s some major section headings for treasures and traps and monsters. Up until now the descriptions were doing fine. Good format. The “trap” section even works. It’s less useful, though to have major sections, when appropriate as this does, that mentions a monster and treasure. It feels like following a paint a by numbers set. A different format for those elements, just integrated in to normal text, would have probably worked better. And, again, better than most.

I could quibble with a lot of things here. The 5e-ness of a bandit who drinks a potion of invisibility when the party approaches, and the game world that implies. How a hot and smoky room should really be mentioned BEFORE you get to that room, to provide a lead in. A bandit wears slippers of spider climbing, but its in treasure section so is probably missed during the combat, for all it would add. A ghast wears a ring jumping. This smacks of Explaining Why and Justifying, something that has little place in D&D. Just give them kangaroo legs or make the fucker leap without any obvious signs. Or, fuck it, all ghasts now leap. Done.

There’s also scratch marks on the floor hinting at a secret door, which are the sorts of hints that should be in an adventure, especially at this level. And, inscriptions on the walls of one room can stop the attacks in the room. I’m not sure how often people decipher wall inscriptions during combat, but, hey, it’s the sort of thing I appreciate in an adventure. [Also, the statue lightning trap has no warning. There should be burn marks or ozone smells in the air.]

It’s all just a little … tomb adventure. As a tomb adventure it is a fine tomb adventure. It’s just not very interesting because its a tomb adventure. If you want a tomb adventure then you should buy this one. “Excellent traps and interesting fights” says a pull quote. Yup. De rigeur D&D. I find little joy though. Maybe that’s my problem?

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is nineteen pages, which is more than enough to get a taste of what you are buying. And, $3? At a good price also.

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32 Responses to Tomb of the Twilight Queen, 5e adventure review

  1. Anonymous says:

    Winters Daughter, Tomb of the Iron God have 5e versions too!

    • Not anonymous but no catchy name either says:

      Your point being?

    • Not anonymous but no catchy name either says:

      Buy new content? I will, and have, but not 5e stuff. I don’t play 5e. I want to buy, support, and play D&D that supports an old school approach. Adventures specifically written for 5e do not fill that need. I own a copy of Winter’s Daughter (the OSE version. The version IT WAS WRITTEN FOR) and a copy of Tomb of the Iron God (the S&W version, you know The version IT WAS WRITTEN FOR). The only way I’m buying an adventure written for 5e is if there is a faithful conversion to an old school ruleset. Note, not a half-assed quicky conversation that still contains 5e-isms. That’s just lazy.

  2. Anonymous says:

    >a goblin scholar called Dr. Otho Ambitriax, who studies ancient history at a local university called the Academy of Systematic Wisdom.
    Whoa, my expectations have been SUBVERTED!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I hope the author keeps trucking. This is great feedback

  4. Chris Hall says:

    The reason there are no hirelings and retainers in 5E is because the Player Characters are now the hirelings. I don’t understand the desire to play the game as lowly, altruistic sellswords. It’s like you’re playing as a medieval A-Team without the interesting backstory of being escaped military prisoners working low-paying jobs in an underground gig-economy out of desperation.

    • Chris Hall says:

      I went ahead and bought this to see what going on with it. On the whole, it’s better than many 5E things I’ve seen. It has decent layout and looks easy to run. There is some nice theming if a little ordinary. However, it still engages in things that rub me the wrong way. I quibble with a few small things, like I wish the method of getting to the separate, second section of the tomb was notated in some way on the map. I’m not a big fan of the suggestion to cede narrative control of the adventure to the players to describe an obstacle they encounter on the way to the tomb and how they overcame it. That’s not D&D; that’s story time. I also winced at the advice that if the party is level one that they should be levelled up early in the adventure, like after the first fight. Do people do that now? Level PCs up in the middle of an adventure, like a video game?

      • Chris Hall says:

        My main problem is that your employer, Dr. Otho, is after a tome, “The Book of the New Sky,” which is later described as being worth 2,000 g.p. Otho is paying the party 100 g.p. a piece, plus expenses. For the suggested party of five, this means at least 500 g.p. Any adventuring party that doesn’t try to get the book for themselves are nerds.

        • Anonymous says:

          I wonder the same question why we as the working class don’t keep the products of our work, instead of letting our bosses keep and profit from what we create.

  5. Chris Hall says:

    The book is said to contain several “antique spells unknown to the modern world.” It doesn’t say how many or what they are. It just says if required, these spells should be selected from the core books. I don’t like the lack of specificity. Also, core book spells don’t sound like unknown spells of antiquity. A book of such rarity should be worth way more than 2,000 g.p. And if it’s such a great book, why doesn’t a wizard PC want it for themselves. This seemly like a missed opportunity.

    • Chris Hall says:

      Instead of being hired by some rich goblin collector, why doesn’t the party get tipped off that a sketchy local wizard just hired some scum rival adventurers to reclaim a lost grimoire containing spells of lost blood magic. Then actually write up cool new spells that the PCs would kill for. If your PCs don’t follow up on a hook like that, then they deserve the consequences of the wizard coming back to town and taking over boiling and poisoning people’s blood inside their bodies and rupturing arteries left and right. Nothing should provide better motivation than competition. If the PCs aren’t motivated to get to the treasure first, and are okay letting other adventurers get the cool treasure, then they are lame. Besides, a race to treasure is a good way to frame a trap-filled tomb adventure to make it cool.

  6. Thank you for doing this one Bryce….I saw the gold status and the pull quotes and thought “really good 5e adventure?” I think serviceable if you like tomb adventures which I do. Definitely helps inform my purchase.

  7. Landifarne says:

    Gotta say that the whole tenor/vibe of this site seems to have shifted over the last 6-12 months…

  8. Anonymous says:

    “a goblin scholar called Dr. Otho Ambitriax, who studies ancient history at a local university called the Academy of Systematic Wisdom.”

    I thought this “M.T. Black” was better than that. I had heard good things.

    • Not anonymous but no catchy name either says:

      My murderhobo stabs Dr Otho and loots his office. Trust me, it’s better this way

  9. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    “Otho secures a private cabin for himself but consigns the characters to steerage. He is astonished if they expect anything better.”

    It would be funnier if the wealthy goblin decided to luxuriate in the fetid water of the bilges, being a goblin, after all.

  10. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    A ghast wears a ring jumping. This smacks of Explaining Why and Justifying, something that has little place in D&D. Just give them kangaroo legs or make the fucker leap without any obvious signs. Or, fuck it, all ghasts now leap. Done.

    That’s actually a return to the Lovecraftian roots of the ghast in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. There’s a ‘classical ghast’ joke in here somewhere.

  11. PrinceofNothing says:

    Your bias against Tomb adventures might be justified, but you do note certain exceptions. What makes Tomb adventures work for you?

    • Dick says:

      Can’t speak for anyone else, but a good tomb adventure for me plays up the horror element more than (say) your average lair or tower raid. You’re disturbing the dead, violating some pretty common cultural taboos, asking for the wrath of whatever deities are supposed to be watching over the place. Screw tomb guardians fighting you on the way in. Let the PCs rob the place blind, then have whatever nightmarish thing they’ve awoken stalk them all the way back to town and start killing anyone they sell the loot to if they even make it that far. Make it all about the dead getting their revenge, or at least getting their stuff back. Ideal circumstance would be watching the survivors having to go back to the tomb to placate who/whatever is buried there to get the guardians off their back.

      If a tomb isn’t going to be eerie and have long-term supernatural consequences you might as well just be robbing a bank vault or the king’s treasury.

  12. Anonymous says:

    If I was a Chaotic Wizard you’d better believe I’d be slapping all sorts of magic items onto my monstrous minions.

  13. Solcannibal says:

    “Centuries ago, the Twilight Queen reigned over the most powerful empire in the world.” – adventure level 3

    POWERFUL empire indeed…..?

    • Jonathan Becker says:

      She was probably level drained (that ability was a lot rougher…and more permanent…in the last century than it is today).
      ; )

  14. Donald Reed says:

    Ghast have INT 11, WIS 10. The monster took the ring off the finger of the paralyzed Tomb Raider it ultimately killed. Golem had the One Ring. Mr. Ghast has a magic ring too.

  15. M.T. Black says:

    I always appreciate Bryce’s reviews and learn what I can from them. A couple of comments in response…

    Bryce often mentions the need for room descriptions to be short and evocative, and it’s a lesson I’ve heard and agree with. It’s a shame that I haven’t hit the mark yet, though he does say my descriptions are far better than most. He suggests the writing feels a bit labored and he may be right. Room description text has to do a lot of work in a short amount of space–I think it’s hard to balance all those elements.

    Regarding adventure hooks, I do agree that “someone hires you” is pretty cliched. For an adventure that might get played at a thousand different tables, it is difficult to provide hooks that are going to align with individual characters. I’m not sure I’ve seen it done well. I’ve noticed that a lot of the OSR modules (including some on Bryce’s best list) basically say, “here is a cool location – of course the adventurers will want to explore it.” I’m not convinced it is a better approach for the many neophyte DMs these days. I’m open to changing my mind on this, though.

    Bryce queries giving the monsters magic items to use. This sort of thing has been mentioned back from the start of the hobby – if the monsters have magic items, they should use them. In this instance, my design motivation is to change up the fights a bit. Bryce missed the mention of the spider climb boots in the combat description, where the bandit chief runs up to the roof and tosses daggers at the party. That sort of thing, monsters doing something slightly unexpected, plays extremely well at the table.

    Thanks for the review – I hope folks will click through and check out the preview.


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